“Unpacking the memories behind a family store” — Hadassah Update, December 2012
The following is a feature story that appeared in the Hadassah update of the Congregation of Moses (COM) Bulletin (Kalamazoo, Michigan):
The 26 Hadassah members and guests who attended the October movie-luncheon meeting were treated to the story of Nathan and Sally Birke and their rather unusual marriage and department store. Imagine walking into a retail business and being greeted by a large “NO BROWSING” sign. Then, when you ask if a jacket comes in another color or size, the owner kicks you out and tells you to shop elsewhere. That was the experience of generations who shopped at Birke’s Department Store in downtown Lowell, Mass., often described as the T.J. Maxx or Marshalls of its day with regard to quality and pricing.
The movie had an introduction by Szifra Birke, daughter of Nathan and Sally, who shared her memories of her parents’ past. After the movie, with technology expertise from Joyce Camhi and Diane Fogel, we established a Skype connection with Szifra, and she graciously shared with us many more memories and some challenges she faced when growing up. We wanted to do something to show our appreciation to Szifra and ordered flowers to be delivered to her mother, Sally, now in a nursing home. Coincidentally, it was Sally’s birthday. We later got this note from Szifra: “Thank you all so much for your incredibly thoughtful gesture for my mom. Her birthday flower arrangement is gorgeous. When I saw that they were from the Kalamazoo Hadassah, I was filled with emotion. Thank you again for such a sweet and kind gesture.”
And thank you, Maxine Berke, our new member, for bringing this movie to us. Browsing Through Birke’s left us nostalgic for the characters who populated our childhoods: tough, funny, resilient people who had weathered unimaginable storms, and who somehow managed to continue to be productive, creative life forces.