With a stirring eloquent welcome from Rabbi Alvin Kass of the East Midwood Jewish Center to start the festivities, Doctor Strauss’ beautiful bride of 65 years, Shirley, controlled the crowd as only she could. After all, she raised her son Elton to became the head of Mount Sinai’s Orthopedic Division, and daughter Bonnie to become one of the first female wizards of Wall Street.
This is the speech Bonnie gave to describe her unique and wonderful father:
“Friends, family and countryman, lend me your ears: Today we celebrate an incredible man who just happens to turn 90. Many of you know him as a brilliant and compassionate physician who delivered over 5,000 babies into this world and then continuing caring for them and their entire families … ‘from the womb to the tomb’ was his mantra.
“I was the RSVP person for this party and my sister-in law Karen did the invitations. I enjoyed so many conversations and e-mails with so many of his patients who became family friends along the way. And are here today. Their comments about my dad were so special. After all, Elton and I were trained early on to answer his calls at home with ‘When did your contractions start’ and ‘Did your water break yet?’
“I would like to give you some insight into the man and father I know. He never read nursery rhymes or spoke baby talk to us … instead he read us Shakespeare and, as you can tell from my introduction, British prose and poetry. I probably was the only 5-year-old that could recite Gunga Din by heart.
“I think that’s why children gravitated to my Dad. He never spoke down to them; they had to come to his level. In fact, whenever we were with his Masonic Lodge for a weekend in the Catskills, he was always where the kids were. My mom often said she felt like a widow for the weekend.
“Dad had to go out in the middle of the night often on a delivery. He always came into my room and kiss me on my head before he left for the hospital. One time I sat up and said ‘Daddy, why are babies born at night’ he answered ‘Because they’re made at night.’
“That’s my Dad, never a loss for words! My Dad, the Polymath and indeed he is one. In fact, when we would call the office during evening hours needing help with a homework problem, he most always knew the answer, but once in a while he would say ‘I have to call you back, I’m with a patient.’ He called back with the correct answer. Years later, Mom and I were helping him move offices and I discovered an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica behind his desk … just in case.
“When my husband Kevin got to know my dad well, he realized the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in my family.
“Choosing some stories to share with you today was not easy. After all, mom and dad just celebrated 65 years of marriage in January, so you can imagine how much there is to tell.
“Elton and I, along with our families, are so lucky to have parents who are wonderful grandparents and now with his daughter, Elisa, and husband giving them their first great grandchild, Sophie Pearl, what could be better? My Mom and Dad took pride in everything we accomplished, and that is a tribute to them both.
“I want to close by saying that I hope that we can all be together and celebrate Dad’s 100th birthday and end with his favorite quote from Shakespeare ‘To thine own self be true.’
“Dad, you taught us that through example. Happy birthday!”
Doctor Strauss, on behalf of my family and all those Italian families in Bensonhurst who depended on you: Auguri per cent anni and Mazel Tov.
Oh, by the way, I made a boo boo last week and credited Elton’s wife Karen with writing the lyrics for all the sing-along songs that were sung. Karen is a professional harpist, and apparently she is quite an artist, too, designing the cover for the sing-a-long booklet distributed to everyone. However, it was Shirley’s dear friend Roz Pomerentz who wrote all the lyrics. Steven Sondheim, watch out!
Screech at you next week!