Bobbi Maxman, 83

Fri, 07/29/2016 - 6:00am

Bobbi Maxman died suddenly in New York City on July 7, 2016, at the age of 83. She and her late husband, Al, first came to Block Island during the summer of 1977 for a weekend visit at the home of Joan and Marvin Salzberg. Bobbi and Al returned a few weeks later to look for a Block Island home of their own and, in April 1978, bought a house on Center Road. Twenty years later, when their family started to outgrow the Center Road house, Bobbi and Al bought a house on Corn Neck Road. It was at this house that Bobbi spent some of her last days, preparing the house for summer renters, and visiting with the many Block Island friends she and Al had made over nearly four decades on the island.

Bobbi was born in 1932 in Zalosce, a small town in what was then Poland. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Poland was partitioned, and Zalosce became part of the Soviet Union. Within two years, the Nazis invaded and Bobbi’s childhood was forever changed and her formal education ended. After a time in the ghetto in Tarnopol, Bobbi’s family went into hiding.  They hid in a barn behind the house of a Ukrainian man whom they called the Hunchback. When their hiding place was discovered, the family moved deep into the forest. They lived for the next years in a hole dug into the forest floor, covered by brush and twigs, too shallow to stand in, too crowded to move around much. For entertainment, Bobbi and her brother would split a piece of straw in half to create two tracks, and they would stage lice races.

The family was liberated by the Red Army on March 15, 1944, and returned to Zalosce. There, they found that their home had been burned to the ground by the Nazis and 99 percent of the Jews who had lived there were treated similarly. They escaped from the U.S.S.R. and began an odyssey that brought them, eventually, to Italy. Bobbi’s parents went to a displaced persons camp in Florence. There was no place in the camp for children, so Bobbi and her brother went to a children’s home called Sciesopoli, in a village called Selvino in the Italian Alps. The children were taught Hebrew and skills meant to serve them for an eventual move to Israel.

As Palestine was still controlled by the British, Jews were forbidden to immigrate. Several boats of children from Sciesopoli were caught going to Palestine and the youths were sent to displaced persons camps in Cyprus. Bobbi’s group went by plane, leaving from a cemetery in Rome at night, and landing in a field in Palestine, undetected. She lived for several years on kibbutzim in the north of Israel, and was in the group that founded Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra, on the Mediterranean coast and the border of Lebanon. She fought with the army in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

In 1951, Bobbi’s odyssey continued when she took a ship to America to visit her parents and her brother, who had been sponsored to emigrate from Italy in 1949. She was among the last immigrants to America to pass through Ellis Island before it closed. Although she had planned to return to Israel, she stayed on in America, got a job and, at the age of 20 and with barely a second grade education and little knowledge of English, went to high school at night.

Her desire for knowledge was rekindled. Bobbi finished high school and then earned an Associate’s Degree in Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Russian from Brooklyn College, master’s degrees from both City University of New York and from Bank Street College of Education, and a Ph.D. from Teachers College at Columbia University. Her learning did not end with her formal education. Bobbi was a lifelong learner who continued to attend classes, whether at Stern College of Yeshiva University, at the YMCA, or at synagogues and museums.

Bobbi and Al, both Brooklyn College alumni, were introduced by mutual friends in 1955. They married in 1956, had two sons, Joel and Ron, and soon thereafter moved to a house near the ocean, in the Manhattan Beach section of Brooklyn.

Bobbi worked as a dress designer, a bookkeeper, and a high school foreign language teacher, eventually taking a position teaching special education, at a middle school in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where she worked for many years. After retiring, Bobbi and Al moved to Manhattan. They were avid theatergoers, sometimes attending four or five shows in a week.  They also began spending more time each year on Block Island with an ever-expanding circle of friends, enjoying their new home at the north end of the island.

Among the many activities Bobbi enjoyed on Block Island were Friday night services at the St. Andrew Parish Center, Sukkot celebrations under the grape arbor with Congregation Sons & Daughters of Ruth, endless games of Scrabble on Town Beach, dinners out and at home, art gallery shows and openings, ice cream nights with her grandchildren, visits from friends and family, and — always — the sunsets over Sachem Pond.

A memorial service was held on Block Island on Thursday, Aug. 25.

Bobbi loved and was loved by her sons Joel (and his wife, Sherri) and Ron (and his wife, Helen), and her grandchildren Andrew, Elizabeth, Nicole, Sophie and Julia. She was full of life and full of energy up to the very end. She will be sorely missed.