This is a compilation of audio tracks to remember the legacy of Bernard Rabinowitz, known by family and friends as "Bernie." The audio used in these tracks come from interviews with Bernie and his family. Bernie passed away at the age of 94 in October, 2014, after surviving a stroke in late summer. I knew Bernie, as a friend of the family for his last year and a half of life. I could scarcely believe him to be a nonagenarian. He was still climbing up stairways and walking with little assistance. He remained sound of mind with a eye always out for the humor of any situation. I remember one of his classic jokes being, "Emma, the only thing that works on me is my nose, its Olympic; always running!” This would be followed by a great honking blow into a cloth handkerchief stored in his back pocket. Although known by his children and grandchildren as "a bear of a man," he is remembered as using his strength only in loving, calm, and compassionate ways.
Bernie was born on 173rd Street in the Bronx on May 15, 1920. A life long New Yorker, he reveled in telling stories of his tough and adventurous youth. The course of his life was significantly altered by WWII when he enlisted to serve in the Air Force on Dec. 7, 1941, the same day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. He was posted in the Aleutian Islands and survived against all odds, returning with only half a dozen men of the 75 in his original squadron. Back in NYC, after the war, he married his childhood friend and sweetheart Ruth Hirsch. Bernie and Ruthie had three children–Debra, Jeffery, and Marc. They raised their family in the East Bronx and New Jersey. Bernie worked many years for Pioneer, a company in New Jersey manufacturing steel doors. He worked his way up until he became foreman, leading many workers. He was highly respected and valued by both managers of the company and his crew. He retired in his 60's and became a full-time grandpa, spending time with his son Jeffery and daughter-in-law Irene's two kids Jason and Lauren. After Ruthie passed away in 1993, he moved to Saugerties, New York to be closer to his daughter Debra, son-in-law Bob Lavaggi, grandson Aldo Lavaggi, and later his younger son Marc too would live near. Twenty years in Saugerties, Bernie enjoyed many gatherings and visits with friends and family. He helped his daughter Debra with her batik clothing business, doing her books and general support. He enjoyed watching the Yankees play baseball on TV and was often seen wearing his team’s baseball hat. In his 70s he joined an elder bowling league in Kingston, NY. On several occasions he bowled a 200 game or higher.
He loved all people and made friends wherever he went.
Bernie possessed a remarkable ability to remain level-headed in the face of extreme danger. His self confidence allowed him to make his own decisions and take care of himself throughout life up until his stroke. He voluntarily gave up driving in his 80's when he felt it was the right moment, and at age 93 decided it was time to move into assisted living. His family seldom had cause to question his decisions because of this soundness of mind. He is survived by his three children and their families. He is missed by them all.
I am so thankful to Bernie's family for entrusting me with his oral history. I hope that my curation of his stories are enjoyed by all who knew him and those that did not get the chance. I wish too that his survivalist spirit and persistent love of life may be felt from this collection and serve as a gift to all that take the time to listen.