Interview With Momo

October 22, 2020

My one marriage, which happened late-ish in life when I was 35 to one of my many Jewish boyfriends over the years. So I was married into a Jewish family and the first immigrants were Michael’s…my husband’s name was Michael Stuhlbarg, which is translated from the German … chair hill. So I always joked that his family invented the skiing chairlift. They immigrated from Russia through Germany to the U.S. through Ellis Island, and we found their names there actually, and their original names. So Michael’s grandmother and grandfather were nicknamed Momo and Popo. I don’t even remember their real names, but Popo had died and Momo was very old and quite bright in her mind still, but you know, it was getting late in life.

So Michael wanted to interview and we schlepped… you know, this was decades ago. So the little tape recorder with the little microphone plugged in and we went back to Cincinnati where he was from, to her rest home. And he went through stories of the family, you know how they immigrated and their experiences. I don’t remember much of that. And at the end he said, “Momo, do you have any wisdom for your progeny?

And of course, we were awaiting the great wisdom of life that comes with age. She was in her 80s or maybe her 90s. And we’re hoping to learn from it ourselves and translate that wisdom into something we could apply to our lives. And so she sat back, she was in a rocking chair and she sat back and she rocked thinking deeply and then opened her eyes and leaned forward. And so both Michael and I leaned forward, you know, this was this breathless moment. And he held out the microphone to her mouth and she opened it and said, “Buy real estate.” So that was the great wisdom we have and none of the family has. In fact, I don’t think my stepson or his grandchildren or my stepdaughter. I mean or his children, or my granddaughter or her children certainly because they’re young … know this, so it’s my job to transmit it.

And that is the story of immigrants who came having had their lives wiped out and the pogroms or pogroms, I forget how it’s pronounced. In Russia, having made their way to Germany and then leaving Germany because of the Jewish persecution there. So having built their wealth such as it was here through real estate, it was a very important piece of wisdom for her to give. They were non-religious Jews. And in fact, the next generation, Michael’s parents, even didn’t want to be seen as Jewish because of the persecution they experienced even here during world war two in that era, the anti-Jewish sentiment here.

So when later, now we’re talking about Michael’s parents who had moved from Cincinnati to San Diego to a wealthy area of San Diego. When their grandkids, namely my step kids, went to visit them in Rancho San Diego, made them take off their Jewish community sweatshirts because they didn’t want it to be known. And they had, even now we’re back to Michael’s parents in Rancho Santa Fe, they had even become or joined a Christian Church to assimilate. And Michael was a non-religious Jew and the only prejudice, bias I received was he had some friends. A couple from when he was married to his previous wife who were Orthodox Jews. And we went to visit them. They lived somewhere on the California coast, South of Santa Cruz, somewhere around there, and they didn’t want to speak to me. And they asked him not to come in the future unless he came alone because they did not approve of him having a shiksa wife, a non-Jewish wife.

As for the interviews we did with Michael’s older family members, it was just the one. Not with other family members. And I have no idea where the recording of that interview with Momo is. I’ve never come across it and all the moves I’ve made since Michael died or it would be a wonderful thing to listen to.

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