On Sept. 14, the Baltimore Jewish community lost a stalwart of Israel advocacy and Holocaust remembrance, Miriam Fromberg. After fleeing the Nazis in the 1940s, Fromberg went on to become the co-owner of two successful businesses in Baltimore City and president of the Baltimore chapter of NA’AMAT USA, a sister organization to NA’AMAT Israel, which provides resources to Israeli women and children in need. She was 94 years old.
Born Miriam Schoenfeld in Poltava, Ukraine, on April 5, 1924, Fromberg grew up under Communist rule in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. As such, she and her family were not free to practice Judaism. By the early 1940s, Fromberg’s family fled from Ukraine to Uzbekistan to escape the Nazis.
After the war, she met her husband, Warsaw-born Solomon Fromberg, who had been in a gulag from 1940 to 1944. After dating for only six weeks, the two were married. She gave birth to their first child, Tzipy, in a displaced person’s camp in Berlin. In 1948, the family moved to the newly established state of Israel, settling in Tel Aviv.
Fromberg and her family struggled financially in Tel Aviv, where she worked in an ice cream parlor. In 1950, their son Jack was born, and the family continued to try to make ends meet in Israel for the remainder of the decade. Although the family struggled, Jack, who currently lives in the Garrison neighborhood of Baltimore County, has fond memories of his childhood in Tel Aviv.
“When she would take the bus to come home, I would run to the bus stop to wait for her because she was my friend. She was my buddy,” he said. “We had a great relationship. I was always hoping she would bring some ice cream home in the hot weather.”
Jack’s sister, Tzipy, said her mother had a radiant personality.
“My mother was known by everyone,” she said. “My teachers used to visit her. My classmates always wanted my mother to be the chaperone on our end of the year trips. She had this magnetic personality.”
Just before Fromberg’s 90th birthday, her granddaughter, Alona Elkayam, helped produce a 40-minute documentary about Fromberg’s life. She did it with the help of Alli Joseph, the president of Seventh Generation Stories, a company that offers personal historian services for families or groups. In the video, Fromberg recalls the family’s struggle in Tel Aviv.
“Israel was a new country with no industry, no agriculture, people there were all Zionists. At that time, we don’t have such a connection,” she explained.
After friends whom the couple met in the German displaced persons’ camp and later settled in Baltimore agreed to sponsor the Frombergs, the family made its way to the United States in early 1960s.
“I always thought that was so interesting. It takes a village right?” said Alona. “I don’t think that that fabric exists in society today. It took the help of friends that said, ‘We have a good life here, and we’re going to help you.’”
The Frombergs started a grocery store on Lexington Avenue called Sol’s Grocery. As Jack remembers, the family lived above the store for one or two years, and he would help in the store when he got home from school at the Talmudical Academy.
“We sold deli meat, we sold cheese, we sold coals, we sold cigarettes, we sold bobby pins, everything that a grocery store could have for the community,” said Jack. “People would use credit. My mom would write the names and the amount that customers owed, when customers got their welfare checks at the beginning of the month, they’d come back in to pay.”
After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Baltimore City experienced two days of rioting. Sol’s Grocery was one of many structures set afire, burned beyond repair.
After that, the family bought a liquor store on Wilkens Avenue called Springer Liquors, which they owned until the mid-1980s. It was around the same time that the Frombergs sponsored many more family members still living in the Soviet Union to come to the United States. Tzipy says it’s hard to account for how many people came from their generosity.
“My mother brought over her first cousin, her cousin’s husband and their kids,” said Tzipy. “Those kids were married already, so they came with their spouses. Then they brought their in-laws, who then brought their own siblings. By the time it’s done, who knows how many?”
After their retirement, Solomon suffered a heart attack and died in 1989. They had been married for nearly 45 years.
“My parents divorced when I was 4 years old, and one of the significant ways I was able to see what commitment was about was through she and my grandfather,” said Alona. “I would spend a lot of time with them. My brother and I would sleep over their house every Friday night, and sometimes during the week. I would see them kiss every morning. They were going to work together, but they would still give each other a kiss every morning.”
Shortly after his death, Fromberg began her involvement with Jewish organizations. She served as the president of NA’AMAT USA’s Baltimore chapter for almost 20 years.
“She gave a lot of her time to NA’AMAT’s Baltimore chapter,” said Tzipy. “She managed the whole operation as far as events and fundraising. She did a lot.”
Despite having never been observant, her Jewish identity was still very important to her.
“Her way of being Jewish was to be very involved in causes for Israel and just be happy about the many joyful celebrations that were happening in our family like bar mitzvahs and holidays,” said Ron Elkayam, Fromberg’s grandson.
“I think even though she grew up in the Soviet Union, on her passport, all the Jewish people were stamped ‘Jew,’” he said. “Even though they weren’t allowed to practice religion, they were still Jews. She always felt Jewish, but she just grew up in a time when that was very difficult.”
In addition to the advocacy work with NA’AMAT USA, Fromberg was an active member in Baltimore’s Holocaust Survivors Social Club. The club’s facilitator, Lisa Shifren, became close friends with Fromberg and remembers her enthusiastic commitment to the group.
“She was an active part of the group and on the planning committee for a number of years,” said Shifren. “It was amazing. She had great ideas and a lot of energy.”
Most who knew Fromberg in her last years were astonished by the strength and clarity of her mind, even in her final days. Her commitment to family also never waned.
“I watched her age so gracefully. Even though her world got smaller and smaller, everything she did and felt was just so very important. Most important was her family. She was always looking forward to the next birthday or the next holiday,” said Alona. “She was our GPS. I knew what my brother was doing in Californina and what my mom was doing on Thursday night because of her. What we were doing now is that we are making sure that we’re together. She was the one that held us together.”
Fromberg is survived by her two children, Tzipy and Jack Fromberg and Jack’s wife Dvora Fromberg; her five grandchildren, Ron and Alona Elkayam, Oren Fromberg and his wife Dr. Laurie Fromberg, David and Simeon Fromberg; and three great-grandchildren, Maor, Naomi and Tomer Fromberg.