Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2008 / 6 Kislev 5769
Lifetime, no see
By Don Terry
They're brothers. They live six blocks apart. And for 80 years, neither knew the other existed
HICAGO Neither man had a clue what to expect that morning last March as they stood toe-to-toe, 42 stories above the city.
The men were guarded yet friendly, as they sized each other up, trying to decide whether to shake hands or hug. After all, they were strangers.
The younger of the two was Lewis Manilow, prominent Chicago lawyer and real estate developer, co-founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art and major fundraiser for cultural institutions. The other man was Jacob "Jack" Shore, an international patent attorney who wrote the patent application for the insanely popular TMX Elmo doll, the 2006 Toy of the Year.
Over the course of their long careers, the two men have taken part in countless negotiations. But never with each other and never anything like this. Not in their wildest dreams.
This morning's meeting had been hastily arranged by telephone at 10 o'clock the night before. It was Lew's idea. He's the one who had tracked Jack down, hiring a modern-day gumshoe out of Detroit to do the job. But now that he had found his quarry - and so shockingly close; the two live only a few blocks apart - Lew wasn't sure how he felt. "I was keeping my emotions in check," he says.
As for Jack, he had stayed awake half the night. Never too up, never too down. That's Jack. The streetwise ex-Navy officer doesn't rattle easily. But this time he was shook up for sure. It surprised him how difficult it was to think this thing through. Muhammad Ali could not have hit him any harder than the news he'd learned in the last 24 hours about Manilow and himself.
The men performed an awkward not-quite-a-handshake, not-quite-a-hug and Jack blurted out the question residing in the forefront of each man's mind.
"What do you say to a brother you didn't know existed for 80 years?"
This is the bittersweet story of Lew and Jack, two grandfathers in their early 80s who, after a lifetime as strangers, discovered they are brothers.
"The surprise of my life," Lew says, "at my age, to find I have a brother, and he lives six blocks away."
"I've always wanted a brother," adds Jack. "But I don't know what having a brother is."
They are both trying to learn. Recently, Jack asked Lew from which side he batted playing baseball as a boy.
"I'm left-handed," Lew said, "but I batted right."
"Me, too," Jack said.
The common ground felt good. The brothers have no history together. But they are negotiating a future.
"We have no idea where this is going," Jack says. "We have no memories to share or to fall back on. We're just kind of feeling our way."
It is a uniquely America story of immigrant dreams and hard times, of broken families and Dickensian serendipity. Most of all, it is a story about the pull of blood and kin and the need to know: "Where did I come from?"
It began in 1955 in a restaurant in the Loop. Ernie Banks was lighting up the Wrigley Field score board and the Prudential Building dominated the Chicago skyline. Lew was in his late 20s, the son of Nathan Manilow, one of the country's top home builders. With a law degree from Harvard and a sky's-the-limit future in the real estate business alongside his father, Lew was having lunch with a close friend of his father. Maybe they were discussing President Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack that September or the death in April of Albert Einstein. Perhaps it was Broadway's heartbreaking sensation that year, "The Diary of Anne Frank."
Whatever the topic, it flew right out of Lew's head as soon as his lunch companion, in reference to a mutual acquaintance, dropped a bomb on Lew's assumptions about his own privileged life.
You know, Lew, so-and-so was adopted. "Like you."
The words sent a jolt through him.
ADOPTED. LIKE. YOU.
"I tried to keep a poker face," he says. "But I was stunned."
Lew forced himself to finish his meal. Outside on the sidewalk he said goodbye and hurried in the opposite direction to the Cook County Probate Court, head spinning, heart racing. There, he rifled through a thick ledger, found his name and asked a clerk behind the desk for his file. He opened the folder and there he was - or who he used to be - Irvin Inger, born in Wayne County, Mich., on Aug. 11, 1927, to Gussie and Sam Inger.
Gussie was an unschooled immigrant from Lithuania whose life in America included several rocky marriages and a history of living on public charity. Sam Inger was from the Ukraine and had little way with money. The couple met in Toledo, Ohio, the epicenter of the American Heartland. It was Sam's first marriage, Gussie's third. Together they had two children, Jacob and Irvin, who joined Gussie's four older kids from previous marriages.
Sam was a junk peddler. What little money he made, Gussie later told the divorce court, he gambled away. With their marriage falling apart after three turbulent years, Gussie and Sam handed Baby Irvin over to the Detroit Hebrew Infants Orphan Home almost immediately after he was born. Jacob, 13 months older, probably never even laid eyes on him.
A year later in 1928, Irvin Inger officially became Lewis Manilow of Chicago, the beloved son of Minette and Nathan Manilow, Russian immigrant and one-time shoe store clerk, well on his way to banking his first million.
Nathan Manilow, with his two partners, carved the town of Park Forest out of the Illinois prairie in the late 1940s. "He Owns a Town," proclaimed the headline of a Newsweek magazine profile of the elder Manilow in 1953. He was a "soft-spoken, hard-minded" man, according to the article. "A self-made millionaire at the age of 31," who "parlayed his moneymaking talents from shoes to suburbs with a knack for spotting what people need."
From the probate records, Lew also discovered that the Manilows had adopted his younger sister, Betty Ann, from a Chicago couple.
"You couldn't do that today - find the names of the birth parents like that, just by asking for the file," he says. He recently returned to the probate court, seeking a copy of his birth certificate. "I told the woman at the office I was adopted and she said 'You won't be allowed to know the names of your birth parents." They had whited them out. I have known a number of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, litigating to get the name of their birth parents and they're still trying. A lot more people are adopted than anybody imagines."
That night, Lew confronted his adoptive parents with his discovery. He wasn't angry. He felt sorry for them. It must have been a tremendous burden, carrying that secret around for so long. Why had they kept the truth from him? What did they think he would do, stop being their son? They were his parents, the only mother and father he had ever known. He loved them.
Nathan Manilow, for one of the few times in his life, was speechless. His mother wept. Please don't cry, Lew told her. Nothing had changed. "I tried to alleviate their concerns," he says. "I tried to make them feel good."
For the next several years, Lew didn't attempt to learn any more about Gussie and Sam Inger. He felt it would be disloyal to the mother and father who had raised him. "I was conflicted about it," he admits. "I was still in the 'You're my parents mode.' I wasn't going to try to find anybody else."
So he went on with his life. He got married and had three children. He became an assistant state's attorney before going into private practice, often representing his father's real estate ventures in Illinois and Florida. He also became increasingly involved in Chicago's theater and arts scene as a collector and benefactor. A principal backer of the Goodman Theatre, he would become known as the godfather of Chicago's vibrant new downtown theater district. And as a major art collector, he would become a pillar of both the MCA, which he helped found, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2000, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
But over the years things would invariably come up to remind him that there was a hole in his past. "Occasionally," Lew says, "it would gnaw at me." Doctors, for example, would ask about his family's health history. Does your father have a history of heart trouble? Does cancer run in your mother's family? He wouldn't tell the doctors that he didn't know because he was adopted. Instead, he says, "I would fend off the question."
Eventually, though, he got tired of not knowing. "To not want to know," he says, "is a form of blindness." He decided to go looking, if for no other reason, he told himself, than to be able to answer the doctor's questions. But he knew it was more than that, something more primal. "People want to know about their real parents, their real families," he says. "It's only natural to want to know where you came from."
Every five years or so, he'd hunt up a Detroit phone book - "remember, this is pre-Google," he says - look up a private investigator, dial the number and hire himself a detective to find out whatever they could about his birth parents. "I didn't have much confidence that I could find out very much." He was right. The investigators were never able to tell him anything beyond the few sketchy details he already knew. "I thought it was a lost cause," Lew says, "and then along came Phil."
Phillip A. Applebaum is a 56-year-old genealogist who lives in the Detroit area and specializes in tracing the roots of Jewish families. He got hooked on genealogy as a teenager when he followed his own family tree back to Poland, birthplace of his parents. Then "Roots" came on TV and the whole country went nuts over family secrets. Applebaum was on his way.
For years most of his business came from the suburbs surrounding the Motor City. But the floundering economy has hit especially hard the last few years in Michigan. He was having trouble finding clients. "Business was drying up," Applebaum says. "Guys on the assembly line don't hire me. It's a quirky luxury."
So Applebaum bought a few books of postage stamps and sent out dozens of unsolicited letters to wealthy people throughout the country, offering his services from his basement office in his small home just outside of Detroit. He found Mr. Lewis Manilow - real estate developer, arts patron and Democratic donor - on the Internet.
Applebaum, knowing nothing of Lew's adoption or Detroit connection, sent him a standard solicitation letter last February. As for Lew, he was automatically poised to throw the solicitation in the trash. "At least one friend of mine," Lew says, "got the same letter."
If Applebaum had been from New York, Los Angeles or even Chicago, Lew would have tossed out the letter for sure. But Applebaum was from Detroit, where Lew's journey began, and that geographic coincidence compelled Lew to pick up the phone. Maybe this Applebaum could do what the detectives could not. It was worth one last shot. Lew would be 81. Betty Ann, the only sibling he knew, had died a few years ago. Time was running out.
Over the phone, he told Applebaum that he wasn't interested in tracing his roots to Henry VIII or any of that jazz. All he wanted to know about was his birth family. Were any of them still alive?
That very night, Applebaum went to work on his ancient Macintosh computer. He's been a professional genealogist for 29 years but it took him about a month on the Internet and several visits to public libraries and cemeteries in Ohio and Michigan to find the answers that Lew had been seeking for so long.
One of the factors that made tracing Gussie difficult was that she kept changing her name and moving back and forth between Toledo and Detroit. At various times she was known as Mrs. Kremer, Mrs. Shore and Mrs. Inger. After she divorced Sam Inger, she went back to calling herself Gussie Shore. When Jacob was 12, she had his name legally changed to Shore as well.
Applebaum tracked Gussie to her final resting place, a Jewish cemetery near Toledo. She had passed away in the Ohio city in 1953 at the age of 64. As for Inger, Applebaum found his grave outside Detroit, where he died in 1955 - the year Lew first learned his real parents' names.
From the cemetery in Ohio, Applebaum got the name and telephone number of one of Gussie's granddaughters, Karen Posner, a retired Toledo schoolteacher who is Lew and Jacob's half-niece. "I'd just had surgery," she recalls. "I was on morphine, and I get this call from Applebaum. I was in a daze."
The genealogist told her about Lew and the long search. Posner wasn't sure if it was the drugs or the story that made her head spin. Applebaum's words had a mesmerizing quality, like a dream. "There's a lot of stuff that isn't good in life," she says. "But this is good. It's like an Oprah moment."
When Applebaum asked Posner about Gussie's children, she said that she had never heard of Irvin. But she knew all about Jacob Shore. Uncle Jack.
Asked Applebaum, "Is your Uncle Jack still alive?"
"I almost fell out of my chair," Applebaum says. "Not only had I found (Lew's) biological parents. I had found a brother, a full brother, living in Chicago. Down the street."
That same evening in late March, Lew and his wife, Susan, were watching television at home when the phone rang around 9 p.m. Applebaum was calling.
Lew took the call. He had hired Applebaum on a whim, really, and was braced for disappointment. He never gave much thought to what he would do if Applebaum found someone alive. It wasn't going to happen. Not after all this time.
When he hung up, he was grinning. He announced to his wife as calmly as he could: "I have a brother."
"Are you kidding?" she asked.
"He lives in Chicago," Lew said. "Six blocks away. His name is Jack Shore."
"Then," according to Susan, "we got the giggles out of control."
Applebaum says when he told Lew about Jack, Lew was "as giddy as a little boy on his birthday. The joy came right through the telephone line."
Pay dirt after all these years, after all the unanswered questions. But Lew quickly shifted into lawyer mode. Be cautious, go slow, he told himself. Maybe his brother - the word would take some getting used to - didn't want to be found. "My birth brother knew nothing about me," Lew says. "It (would be) a real shock to him. I was looking for someone. He didn't know there was someone."
As it happened, the genealogist also called Jack. "He received the news with relative calm," Applebaum says. "He told me he was not an emotional person and I should not expect any whooping and hollering from him."
Jack's wife, Estelle, recalls her husband's reaction quite differently. "He was absolutely dumbfounded," she says.
The next night, the brothers talked over the telephone. It was a brief conversation, just long enough to set up a face-to-face meeting at 9 o'clock the next morning at Jack's home on the 42nd floor of a luxury condominium building just north of the Loop.
When Jack hung up, Estelle got ready for bed. Jack retreated to the den.
"It's time for bed," she called.
"I can't sleep," he responded. "I have to think this thing through."
Jack was happy with his life. At 82, the patent attorney still goes to the office each day. "I don't know what I would do with myself if I didn't work," he says.
A family of Elmo dolls sits on the sofa of his den. He has three children and nine grandchildren, all within easy reach throughout the suburbs of Chicago. After his first wife, Edith, died in 1999, he felt blessed to have found another woman he could love with all his heart - Estelle, whom friends and family call Dimpy. They go to Las Vegas several times a year, to New York to catch a Broadway show or two and jazz clubs in Chicago. "I never listened to jazz before I met Dimpy," Jack says. "I was in a shell. She brought me out."
He wasn't looking to dig up the past. As far as he was concerned, the past was right where it belonged. Long ago he had shoved his family history as far back in his mind as he could. Too painful.
Everyone else was dead and gone. His half-sister Dorothy. His half-brothers, Frank and Israel. Jack was the lone survivor, the last of his generation.
Or so he thought.
What hurt is that he had not been close to his siblings, especially his brothers. So when he did slip up and allow himself to think back on the old days in Ohio, he was wracked with regrets. He missed what could have been, what should have been. He always wanted a second chance but they don't come around too often. And they certainly don't stop at the door of an 82-year-old man.
Sometimes, however, they just might.
He figured Lew would be bursting with questions about the family. He was afraid, perhaps a little embarrassed, that he might not be able to answer them all.
As a kid, not knowing was a strategy of survival. Jack didn't ask a lot of questions growing up and his older siblings didn't volunteer many answers. There were some things no one ever talked about in his family, like the other kids who weren't there. He had a vague and scary sense that his mother had other children he had never met. "My half-sister and half-brothers never told me anything about our past," Jack says. "And I always felt guilty asking. So I didn't."
As a grown man, Jack experimented with psychoanalysis in the 1960s. Try as he might, he could not remember much about his life prior to the age of 7 or 8. "The analyst said I might have withdrawn because I didn't want to get adopted out," Jack says.
The instant they were able to, Gussie's older children fled her home. "She alienated her children," Jack says. By the time he was 12, he was left alone with his mother in a tiny, weary house on Jerome Street in Toledo. "I don't think my mother knew anything about love and affection," he says.
What she knew about was survival.
Gussie, who never learned to read or write English, was 17 when she came to America in 1906. No one knows for sure why she made the arduous journey from the known world to the new. But life for Jews across the Russian Empire was plagued by pogroms and poverty. She left the pogroms behind, but poverty followed her to America and dogged her for most of her life. "My mother," Jack says, "was a very bitter and lonely woman. She had three husbands who didn't amount to much."
It appears Gussie did not make the trip alone. Applebaum believes she came with the first of her three husbands, Louis Kremer, who was one year older. They settled in Providence, R. I., where they had one child, a son, Israel Kremer, born in 1907. Gussie was 18. Three years later, Louis filed for divorce, accusing Gussie of adultery and other "wickedness."
After the divorce, Gussie and Israel moved to Toledo, where in 1915 she married another immigrant, a cook from Boston named Charles Shore. That marriage lasted 10 years and produced three children, Dorothy, Frank and Morris.
This time it was Gussie who initiated divorce proceedings, charging Charles with cruelty, neglect and abandonment, which forced her, she said, to rely "on the efforts of a minor son and her own exertions" to survive. As a result of Charles' behavior, she said, she was "compelled and forced to consent to the adoption of her youngest child, Morris, aged four years, by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Norwalk of Toledo, Ohio."
Jack says the first time he ever heard of Morris was when Applebaum told him a few months ago. The fate of Morris is unknown.
On Dec. 3, 1925, about two months after her divorce from Charles Shore, Gussie married Sam Inger, 39, in Toledo. Sam and Gussie moved back and forth between Ohio and Michigan. They had Jacob in Toledo in 1926, and Irvin a little over a year later in Pontiac, Mich.
Sam, an unskilled laborer, immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine. Exactly when is unclear. He came to the United States from Winnipeg in 1914 and settled in Pontiac, Mich., where he peddled junk.
Gussie and Sam's marriage was turbulent. In divorce papers, Gussie accused Sam of stealing her money to support a gambling habit. She also accused him of beating her so badly a month before Irvin was born that she had to call the police. It wasn't the first time, she said. According to Gussie, he abandoned her and the children on three separate occasions and "assaulted, struck, beat and otherwise ill-treated" her throughout the duration of their marriage.
Jack has no recollection of his father. "I never knew him," he says. "He disappeared. But I'd rather have a lousy father than no father. I had no guidance."
Once when he was 9 or 10, Jack and his mother were walking down the street when Gussie told her son to keep walking while she stopped briefly to talk to a stranger. "Did you see that man we just passed?" Gussie asked Jack a few minutes later. "That was your father."
After their first awkward embrace last March, the brothers sat in Jack's living room and looked out on the vastness of Lake Michigan. Estelle brought in a tray of coffee.
Then they started talking, asking each other questions like two strangers on a park bench exploring what they might have in common. How many children do you have? What are their names? What do they do? Grandchildren? Do you take sugar? Cream?
"We are both uncovering these histories," Lew says. "Bit by bit we're learning more and, I think, getting closer. But it's complicated."
"It's an evolving process," Jack agrees. "We'll have to see where we go from here."
"But they have to hurry," Estelle says. "At their age, how much time do they have left?"
Jack reminded Lew that they had met once before. Jack and his late wife, Edith, had visited Lew's art-filled home, which was then in Lincoln Park. Edith had been a docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where Lew is on the board. An ardent art collector, Lew on occasion opened his home for tours of his personal collection. Lew and Jack shook hands that night and then vanished from each other's lives. Again.
"That handshake," Lew says, "was the extent of our history together."
Before arriving that morning last March, Lew Googled Jack and discovered that Jack had done quite well for himself. He had become a globetrotting patent attorney and an expert on intellectual property law. He had taught for 10 years at John Marshall Law School. The profile contained a photograph of a gray-haired man in a suit and tie, wearing glasses.
So that's what my brother looks like, Lew thought.
In fact, all of Gussie's children did remarkably well. Counting Lew, Gussie gave birth to three lawyers, an accountant and a gifted dancer, Israel Kremer, her first born, who died in Eastern France in 1944 serving his country as a soldier in World War II.
From the stories he's heard from Jack about life with Gussie, Lew says, "It's not exactly encouraging to feel warm or nostalgic about her. All I know is we were blessed with good genes. A lot of lawyers came from this woman who was illiterate and difficult. We won the gene pool. We were lucky."
After their first meeting, the brothers started getting together for breakfast every other week or so. They had dinner with their wives, attended a concert together. "It's all totally new to me," Lew says. "This is so overwhelming. I haven't done a lawyerly-like job of figuring it out."
So he and Jack are taking things slow. In August, the brothers and their families got together at Lew's 72-acre summer compound in Wisconsin, more meet-and-greet than family reunion.
Each brother invited his large blended family, including children, step-children and grandchildren. Not everyone was there, but the house was crowded. Estelle's daughter and son-in-law came all the way from Los Angeles to meet the new relatives. "I didn't just find a brother," Lew says. "I found a new family. Digesting that, relating to that is going to take time."
When Estelle and Jack arrived, Estelle was carrying a cardboard box.
"What do you have there?" Lew asked.
"Name tags," Estelle said.
She poured them out on a coffee table.
"Everyone, find yours and put it on," she said.
A few minutes later, into the living room came running Lew's youngest grandchild, 4-year-old Nathan, who is named after Lew's father.
"Uncle Jack?" he asked, looking around at the strange new faces.
"That's me," Jack said, raising his hand and holding up his name tag.
The little boy waved, said "Hi, Uncle Jack," and ran back outside to play in the sunshine.
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© 2008, Chicago Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
© 2008, Chicago Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services