Larry Hankin, my friend and Intermountain Jewish News associate editor, left a message on my home phone at 9:36 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. The instant his solemn voice reached my ears, I knew. “Miriam passed away this morning . . . ”
She was 100 years old.
Journalists are trained to sublimate personal feelings and jump into reporting mode. The funeral would be Monday, Jan. 9, noon, at BMH-BJ. I would cover the service. Still, memories refuse to disconnect at will.
I first met Miriam when I joined the newspaper 25 years ago. I felt very nervous sitting in her large office with her son Hillel Goldberg, IJN executive editor. But Miriam put me at ease.
“We’re like mishpocha here,” she smiled, using the Hebrew word for family — which, quite honestly, I’d never heard before.
In 1994, Miriam and Hillel sent me on assignment to Israel. It was my first time in the Jewish state. When I came back, I was high on Israel. I listened to Israeli music. I studied Torah. Three years later I joined Temple Sinai.
I owe the reawakening of my Judaism to Miriam Goldberg.
In my first days and weeks here, staffers told the story of how Miriam’s beloved husband and IJN publisher Max Goldberg grew quite ill around 1970. With her characteristic stiff upper lip, Miriam became the de facto editor and publisher of the IJN as a bedridden Max kept apprised of developments from home.
Miriam would leave the office, dash home to make her husband lunch, exchange ideas with him and head back to work. She loved this man deeply.
When Max died in 1972, Miriam assumed the helm of the IJN. Despite her lack of formal journalism training, she accepted this daunting challenge with utter professionalism and tenacity. She toiled selflessly 12 or more hours a day at the IJN, long after the energy dissipated in staffers half her age — including myself.
During her tenure, Miriam grew the paper by leaps, bounds, circulation and vision. She introduced special sections, regular business coverage, electronic transmission of news content and inspired a generation of award-winning writers.
The newspaper I encountered in 1992 was essentially Miriam’s creation. I was very proud that a woman had achieved unrivaled success in our male-dominated industry.
Her word at the IJN was law, until she began receding from our midst at age 88-and-a-half. Even then, Miriam showed up and embodied the pride of place that permeated this office.
When that was no longer feasible, she periodically called to offer advice and suggest tips worth pursuing. More than once, she simply said, “Thank you.”
I’ve covered many funerals in the Denver Jewish community. Occasionally I’m on a first-name basis with one or two eulogists. Usually I’m a complete stranger.
Today I would know them all.
I took my seat at BMH-BJ at 11:20 a.m. and watched Feldman Mortuary attendants carefully usher the plain pine casket bearing Miriam Harris Goldberg to the front of the bimah.
As I’ve learned, one hundred years of a full life can’t diminish loss. The coffin’s slow passing solidified that truth.
I sat with the Jewish News family: Larry and his wife Gail; assistant editor Chris Leppek and his wife Lisa; account executive Lori Aron and husband Mani Isler; our retired, longtime office manager Judy Waldren.
Across the way I spotted IJN sports editor Jerry Mellman, staring in disbelief. I didn’t bump into retired account executive Bernie Papper until I was leaving.
People young and old started filling the deep blue chairs in the sanctuary, exchanging hugs and subdued smiles.
“One might be forgiven for believing that Miriam Goldberg would simply live forever,” intoned Rabbi Yaakov Chaitovsky. “Everyone who knew her and everyone you asked about her always said the same thing: ‘For her entire life, Miriam was always there.’”
The rabbi said that Miriam had an ecumenical spirit that bridged and mended boundaries. “She had such a large embrace that no one would be free from it, and all would equally find a home within it,” he said, referring to a condolence message conveyed by Cardinal Francis Stafford in the Vatican.
“I could go on forever,” Chaitovsky said, “just as Miriam seemed to go on forever.”
Charles “Chuck” Goldberg, a retired judge, an attorney and Miriam’s second eldest child, approached the bimah with practiced confidence. Calm and congenial, he held deeper emotion in check and shared an amusing fact.
“You know that Mom lived here for 100 years,” he said. “But she’s not a native.”
Miriam was born May 18, 1916 in Denver, to Minnie and Harry Harris.
“In 1916, Denver was a city of dirt roads, horses, and had a rough and tumble, cowboy atmosphere,” Chuck said. “Minnie didn’t think this was a place for a self-respecting woman to give birth to her first daughter.
“So she took a train to Chicago and delivered Miriam at Michael Reese Hospital. After a few weeks, mother and baby rode the train back to Denver.
Chuck outlined Miriam’s life and achievements. She graduated East High School, attended Lindenwood College in St. Louis, Mo., then “caved into Max Goldberg’s entreaties for marriage.”
The nuptials took place on Feb. 12, 1936, at the old BMH.
“Their marriage lasted about 35 years,” Chuck said. “Sadly, she’s been a widow longer than she was married.
“Her home was like a hospitality center,” he continued. “It was always open to Jewish soldiers at Lowry who were searching for a home-cooked meal.”
Miriam and Max, who was in advertising and public relations, were chief fundraisers for Rose Hospital, which unlocked the doors of opportunity for Jewish doctors in Denver and the US.
In the 1950s, they obtained the first SEC license in the nascent Denver television market, assembled the business group that bought the station, and founded Channel 9 (then KBTV).
Max Goldberg then hosted “On the Spot,” a one-on-one interview program featuring celebrities, presidents and local personalities.
“My mother helped line up stars, wrote the scripts and was always there, right behind the scenes,” Chuck said.
He enumerated some of her many awards: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Jewish Press Assn.; Mizel Museum annual dinner honoree; Colorado Press Women’s press woman of the year; charter member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame; and inductee into East High School’s inaugural Hall of Fame.
“My mom was so dedicated and loyal to providing care, attention, patience and absolute love to her family and our community,” Chuck said.
“Now the matriarch of our family has passed into the arms of her Creator. We ask that G-d bless her, and may her beautiful soul find rest.”
Richard Goldberg, an attorney living in Phoenix, Ariz., and Miriam’s youngest son, delivered a moving tribute to his mother. The wording implied that this day was never far from his mind.
“In our sliver of eternity, we were graced by the presence of the Divine in our midst,” he said. “And that presence was my mom.”
Miriam’s acts of kindness and innate desire to give to others defined his mother, and exemplified her belief in Micah’s instruction to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Thy G-d.”
“These were not separate obligations to my mother,” Richard said. “They were her essence; how she approached life every day.”
Miriam followed the teachings of her earliest mentors Rabbi William S. Friedman of Temple Emanuel, Colorado Gov. Ed Johnson, “and her beloved husband, perennial admirer and close confidante, my father Max Goldberg.”
Her mentors taught Miriam that “a good name is more precious than jewels,” Richard said. “Don’t say anything you’ll regret, because you can’t take it back. Always extend a helping hand to others.”
As a child, Richard wondered why his mom was invariably late picking up him and his brother at school or other events.
“Why? I knew she was helping a friend in personal need. She extended her warmth to so many others, whose needs she so accurately perceived . . . whether it was giving asthmatic children a respite from the hospital or translating articles into Braille for soldiers recuperating at Fitzsimons Army Hospital during WW II.”
Richard said her one regret was never completing her college education. “But she was a professor emeritus in how one could and should live life.”
Rabbi Chaitovsky read the eulogy by Dorothy Goldberg Scott, Miriam’s eldest child.
“It has been said that we do not count a person’s years unless there’s nothing else to count,” wrote Dorothy, who resides in Connecticut with her family.
“Thankfully, there’s much else that counts in my mom.”
Dorothy, who said she was quite shy as a child, remembers how Miriam’s presidency of the PTA changed her self-image. Her reticence transformed into pride, which all her friends noticed.
Four of Dorothy’s children were born in Texas; the fifth, in Connecticut. Distance didn’t matter to Miriam.
“Mom showed up for the births of all our children and spent two weeks with each of them,” she wrote. “Her presence was such a blessing for my peace of mind.”
She included a telling incident about Miriam’s concern for health and its profound influence on her loved ones.
“Mom and my husband Joe were in the kitchen having dinner. Well, Mom was. Joe was outside having a smoke. She said, ‘Joe, it hurts me when I see someone I don’t know smoking. But when it’s someone I love, it’s too hard to bear.’
“My husband was astounded. Once he realized that my mother loved him, that was Joe’s last cigarette, ever. So thank you Mom.”
Dorothy concluded with an insightful gem. I think the IJN family laughed more than anyone.
“Mom always said, ‘Just do your best — and hope that no one else figures out that was your best.’”
Hillel Goldberg, Miriam’s third child, a rabbi and my executive editor at the IJN, spoke last. His emotional eulogy gripped all those present.
“My mother lived 100 years,” he began. “My mother did not live for 88-and-a-half years.” The statement resonated with anyone caring for a loved one gradually losing his or her abilities.
“To the best of my memory and analysis, my mother was 88-and-a-half when she started to decline,” said Hillel, who did not rely on notes.
“Until that point she worked 12 hours a day at the IJN. Nevertheless, the decline set in.
“Those 12 hours became eight hours, then less than eight, until she couldn’t do everything that she used to be able to do in that period.
“Two alternatives emerged. One was to rage against the dark, and collapse into frustration or impotence or anger.
“The other alternative was to see not what was lost, but what remained — and to enjoy what remained.”
Advertising was one of Miriam’s main focal points at the IJN. When she couldn’t sell ads anymore, “she was still able to counsel me,” he said. “Then she was no longer able to do that. But she was still able to come to the newspaper and give helpful comments and direction.”
Once that capacity diminished, Hillel said that Miriam continued coming to the IJN to proofread. “And she took pleasure in that, and I took pleasure in that.
“When that ability receded, Miriam would arrive at the office and share her trademark smile with each one of the staffers,” he said. “And I took joy in that.”
The choice, he emphasized, was hers.
“I believe she and I made the same choice. And the choice was not to look at what was lost, but to take joy in what remained.”
While it’s appropriate to praise Miriam’s achievements, leadership and human touch during the first 88-and-a-half years of life, Hillel said it is perhaps equally appropriate to recall how these qualities sustained her over the past 11-and-a-half years.
In one of Miriam’s final exchanges, her granddaughter Shana Goldberg (IJN assistant publisher and web editor) said, “I’m glad you’re feeling better, Grammy.” And Miriam exclaimed, “I’m not sick!”
The last time Hillel heard his mother speak was on the first night of Chanukah last month. “Both of her eyes opened, which hadn’t happened since she developed the shingles three months before.
“I said, Mom, would you like me to light the Chanukah candles? And she said, ‘Please!’
“It was the strongest word I’d heard from her in weeks.”
The week before her death, Miriam was no longer able to nod.
“But she could breathe,”he said. “And I took joy in that, because as the philosopher said, ‘Just to be is holy.’ Just to be.”
He spoke of a recurring image in his mind.
“I have a picture of my mother’s great-grandparents Louis and Bertha Cohen with Mom when she was just a baby. I imagine what they must have thought as they held this little baby — their dreams for her, their hopes for her, her potential — and how astounded they would be if they had been able to see the human being and leader she became.
“But there’s one thing I’m certain of. I know. They looked down at this baby, perhaps a year old. They knew she couldn’t talk. She couldn’t do anything for herself. She needed 24-hour care. And they took incredible joy in her.”
Nurturing life under difficult or terminal circumstances is not universally accepted in this society. Clearly, Hillel disagrees.
“At the end, my mother couldn’t talk. She couldn’t do anything for herself. She needed 24-hour care,” he said. “But I took the same incredible joy in her.
“Just to be is holy.”
Grandchildren Shana Goldberg, Temima Goldberg Shulman, Tehilla Goldberg and Chaim Goldberg also spoke.
Cantor Joel Lichterman concluded the service by reciting the E-l Malei Rachamim. Interment followed at Rose Hill Cemetery. Feldman Mortuary made the arrangements.
As we left the service, IJN reporters, editors, ad executives and former employees carried years of memories to our respective cars, and in our hearts.
Miriam Goldberg is survived by her children Dorothy Goldberg (Joseph) Scott, Charles “Chuck” (Honey) Goldberg, Rabbi Hillel (Elaine) Goldberg and Richard (Dalhia Zutler) Goldberg; grandchildren Jordie (Karen) Scott, Jamie Scott, Jacki Rebekah (Jerry Gonzales) Simon-Peter, Jeff (Corine) Scott, Jennifer Scott; Todd Adlai (Ewie Kusnadi) Goldberg, Greg (Vicki) Goldberg, Dianna (Craig) May; Tehilla Goldberg, Temima (Avraham) Shulman, Mattis (Batya) Goldberg, Shana (Andreas Schmid) Goldberg, Riki (Dr. Alex) Kushnir, Chaim (Ronit) Goldberg; Grant Goldberg and Drew (Jessica) Goldberg; great-grandchildren Jessica and Jason Scott, Michael Bergmann, Max and Kate Scott, Sophie and Esther Goldberg, Harris and Charlie Goldberg; Rachael, Amalya, Aviva Esther, Eliana and Rivkah Ahuva Shulman, Eli, Yisrael Chaim Michael, Shneur, Elisheva Shaindel, Fayge, Michel Yehuda, Rachel and Chana Goldberg, Yaakov Aryeh, Baruch Gavriel, Yehoshua Noach, Dalia and Leah Sima Kushnir; Mac and Evie Goldberg; sister-in-law Dyna Harris; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
She was predeceased by great-grandson Jared Scott and her brother Leonard J. Harris.
Contributions may be made to the Jewish Institute for the Blind, 185 Madison Ave., #1601, New York, NY 10016.
Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News