Aileen Hammerman, a concert pianist who brought “glamour and dazzle” to Beth El Congregation where her late husband, Saul Z. Hammerman, served as cantor, died Aug. 24. She was 90.
Hammerman was passionate about music and a fierce advocate of her Jewish community, Dr. Samuel “Buddy” Hammerman and Shelley Green, two of Hammerman’s three children, told the JT.
“She had inherent talent, and because of her tenacity and persistence, she became an extraordinary musician and someone who gave a lot to her synagogue and to her Jewish community and to others around her,” Dr. Hammerman said.
At his mother’s funeral, each of her six grandchildren read a chapter from a book created by one of the grandchildren many years ago as a sixth-grade class project, he shared.
“When Rebecca, the youngest of the grandchildren, interviewed my mother to talk about her life as part of a school project, my mother created a book in six chapters,” he said.
Titled “Symphony in A Major,” the book “detailed aspects of her life in her own words.”
“One chapter was about growing up in Baltimore City, attending school as a young kid, showing talent, getting scholarships, growing up and meeting my father in the Jewish community because of Beth El, and working with him as an accompanist, arranging talent at Beth El, getting married, having children, and evolving to become a grandparent.”
“I think it was so magical what Rebecca got from my mother in her book,” Green said. “My mother loved the gowns, the glitter, and the attention, but she said she wanted to be remembered as someone who was this pianist and performer but also someone who loved her family and was an advocate for her Jewish community. To hear that highlighted for me, how hard she worked at a time when a lot of women were not working full time — she did it. She did it because she persevered. That’s how I’d like to remember her.”
Beth El Rabbis Steven Schwartz and Dana Saroken spoke at the service.
“I feel like the world lost some of its beauty yesterday, a bit of its glamour and dazzle, the spotlight dimmed a bit, the music softened, and the world became a bit less regal,” Saroken said. “Aileen glided through the world with grace and dignity and style. She was proud to be Cantor Saul Hammerman’s wife and partner on the stage, bimah, and life. She was proud of her children. She was proud of the relationship that she and Cantor Hammerman shared with Rabbi [Mark] Loeb. She was proud to be a part of a group of friends that made a philanthropic impact on our community.”
Aileen Goldstein was born April 19, 1932 at Sinai Hospital and grew up in the Forest Park area of Baltimore city. She was one of four daughters of Hilda and Morris Goldstein.
She received a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory when she was 10 years old and studied under Austin Conrady. She attended Forest Park Elementary School and graduated from Forest Park High School in 1949. She graduated from Peabody Conservatory in 1952. She had her first job as a staff pianist for WMAR.
Not long after Saul Hammerman became cantor at Beth El Congregation, he reached out to Peabody looking for an accompanist. Aileen Goldstein got the job. She also got the cantor: They fell in love and married two years later, in 1954.
“It was love at first sight, and throughout their lives they respected each other’s talent,” Aileen’s sister Ellen Levin once wrote.
Hammerman is survived by her children, Jan (Susan) Hammerman, of Denver, Shelley (Richard) Green, of Massachusetts, and Dr. Samuel (Renea) Hammerman, of Pennsylvania; her sisters Ellen (Ralph) Levin and Natalie (late Dr. William) Feinblum; and her six grandchildren, Laura (Jason) Berlinberg, Tamara Hammerman, Hannah (Kasun) Perera, Michaela Green, Noah Hammerman and Rebecca Hammerman.
Hammerman joined with her husband to enrich the synagogue with music, and raise funds. She brought renowned talent, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to Beth El.
Green recalled that her mother often accompanied the performers, and used her musical talents when working with many of the committees in which she was active.
“The Beth El community,” Green said, “was a family to her.”