Lynn Schoenbaum’s ever expanding family

by | Jun 7, 2013 | Other News

Rachel and Lynn Schoenbaum.

Rachel and Lynn Schoenbaum.

With a youthful spirit and the ability to find joy in life’s smallest pleasures, Lynn Schoenbaum embraces her early sixties with enthusiasm and a willingness to seek new adventures. When most people are choosing to retire from their volunteerism, Schoenbaum has discovered that her deepening involvement in the Jewish community has expanded her world beyond what she could have ever imagined.

Serving on the Israel and Overseas Committee of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater has been extremely enlightening for Schoenbaum. Although a donor for years, she never felt knowledgeable enough to serve on committees. “It is so ‘out of the box’ for me to be doing this,” she admits. “Now that I have decided to get involved, I have found that it is fascinating to hear the reports of the recipient agencies, the requests for new funding and the committee’s extensive allocation’s process. It makes me proud to belong to a community that works to help others.”

Schoenbaum was raised watching her parents take great pride in supporting local agencies. Her father, of blessed memory, used to say, “You give where you live.” Serving as chair of the Newport News UJC campaign during the Six Day War, he went to Israel to discover the role that Tidewater could play in the conflict’s aftermath.

“My father worked 24/7,” Schoenbaum explains. He was a quiet man with strong convictions who loved the restaurant business. Leon Schoenbaum had a chain of Shoney’s restaurants from Williamsburg to Chesapeake. Definitely ‘color blind,’ he was one of the first in Tidewater to open his doors to African Americans. Born in Petersburg, Va., he was the youngest of four sons and grew up in Huntington, West Virginia. His immigrant father owned a bowling and billards hall. When the family moved from Poland to Germany, their last name was too hard to pronounce, so it became “Schoenbaum,” meaning “beautiful tree,” describing the one in their front yard.

“My parents met when my father was in the Navy. Dad was living next door to my mother’s family, on Princess Anne Rd. in Norfolk.” Every morning, my grandfather would go to minyan until he passed away at 89 years old. Samuel “Nubby” Silverman’s family was one of the first at Temple Emanuel. “He was the nicest man. Ask anyone that knew him…they will tell you!” she says.

Raised in Hilton Village in Newport News, Schoenbaum was one of three siblings and the first granddaughter on both sides of the family. As members of Newport News’ JCC, her parents sent her to Kadima’s summer program. She reminisces, “I still have a prize that I won for a dance contest —a 45 record of I Got You, Babe.

Members of Rodef Sholom, Schoenbaum’s mom, Ruth Ann, served in the Sisterhood. Schoenbaum remembers her family starting to light Shabbat candles and having Friday night dinners when her older brother, Ray, of blessed memory, was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. She continued her studies after Hebrew School and Sunday school to be confirmed.

Off to Washington D.C. to study education at Marjorie Webster, it wasn’t long before Schoenbaum realized she wanted to make a change in her career choice. In 1974, she moved to Atlanta and worked as a dental receptionist and assistant. After three years, she returned to Virginia Beach to live at the oceanfront.

At 25 years old, employed by Shoney’s, Schoenbaum began to explore many facets of the restaurant business. For 10 years, she transitioned from dishwasher to waitress to trainer to office administrator. Intrigued by creativity, she left to pursue her dream of owning a gift shop in Norfolk.

Decorating the shelves of the Paisley Hippo with family photographs, many Jewish customers recognized her relatives, starting conversations that led to life-long friendships. Schoenbaum joined ORT and met many more people. She laughs, “Didn’t everyone do ORT?” While she continued to run her retail store, she also managed Norfolk’s ACT II Shop.

Schoenbaum gave birth to her daughter, Rachel, on June 12, 1989. She decided that she would give her child a Jewish upbringing. “I wanted her to feel comfortable walking into any Jewish community, anywhere in the world and feel as if she was part of a larger ‘family.’ “Honestly,” Schoenbaum teases, “Have you ever met a Jewish stranger?”

When Rachel was two years old she was a student at the JCC’s Shalom Children’s Center preschool and continued afterwards to study at HAT. “I was thrilled when Rachel recited the Shema at bedtime. We had a sukkah for years at her insistence. When she got older, I sent her to Beth El’s Hebrew and Sunday Schools and for two years, she participated in the JCC Maccabi games.”

As a HAT parent, Schoenbaum witnessed her friends’ involvement in the Jewish community. “It was amazing to watch the hours that they spent unselfishly giving to communal work. I found it inspiring,” she admits.

In the late 1980’s, Nancy Kantor from Congregation Beth El asked her to help with the arrival of the Russian immigrants. Schoenbaum set up apartments and assisted with school enrollments.

In 2001, she took a position on the board of Jewish Family Service. Presented with a creative opportunity by Harry Graber and Jay Klebanoff, Schoenbaum went to Baltimore to investigate a food basket program. For five years, under the guidance of Sue Graves, Schoenbaum helped tie bows, assemble baskets and deliver them to tables where they became centerpieces for celebrations. She says she worked with many wonderful volunteers. When naming opportunities were available for the new JFS building, Schoenbaum dedicated the basket room in “Celebration of the life of Ray Schoenbaum and Samuel “Nubby” Silverman.” In 2003, she received the Max Japha award for volunteer service.

On Oct. 6, 2001, Rachel celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at Temple Emanuel, reading the Haftorah that Schoenbaum’s brother, Ray, her namesake, had read. Instead of gifts, Rachel asked that donations be given to an endowment fund at JFS to fund children’s programming. Having seen her great Aunt Betty’s UJFT gold Lion pin, Rachel was sure that she too had earned the “Tiger.”

In 2006, Terri Sarfan organized a group tour to Israel for her friends and their families. It was Schoenbaum’s first visit. “My greatest ‘ah-hah’ moment came when I walked into the Kotel courtyard with my daughter and saw the observant men rushing to pray before Shabbat. We heard a magnificent women’s choir while standing there and I thought to myself, ‘I am so lucky to be Jewish.’”

Schoenbaum’s subsequent trips have varied: In 2007, she went to Israel with the UJFT Women’s Campaign. In 2010, she joined a coed Mission, March of the Living, traveling from Poland to Israel. And, in October, 2012, she and Rachel participated in a four-day ‘eye opening’ UJFT Women’s Mission to Cuba where they experienced JDC’s hand in global renewal.

Inspired by the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, she has joined its Ambassador Club to learn even more. With her increasing familiarity, Schoenbaum will be in a position to share her stories as a newly appointed member to the Women’s Cabinet of UJFT.

When she looks back over all her years, Schoenbaum knows that her life has been shaped by her years of motherhood. She has seen her friends change jobs, change residences and change activities, yet the one constant that remains is their shared parenting journey, allowing them to watch together their children mature from infancy to adulthood.

“I count my blessings every day,” she says. “I have the most amazing friends because I decided to raise Rachel within the Jewish community. We have always been included in their Shabbat dinners, holiday festivities and life milestones. When my father passed away, our friends and community were there to comfort us.”

When Rachel was born, Lynn Schoenbaum’s world transformed. Over these past 23 years, whether a resident of Norfolk or Virginia Beach, her legacy of giving has continued to be “right where she lives”—in the Jewish community.

by Karen Lombart