Cynthia Ehrenkrantz is a woman of many creative pursuits; among them cooking, singing, and writing. She’s done all of these throughout her nearly ninety years.
Guest Post by Karen Gershowitz
Singing in a chorus has been part of her life since was a teenager. When she was seventy-eight years old, she attended the Jewish Choral Festival. There was a Yiddish choir performing: “They were having the best time, bopping around the stage. I turned to my friend and said I’m going to audition for them”. She said: “But you don’t speak Yiddish.” That didn’t deter Cynthia. She responded: “I’ll learn.”
Since then, true to her word, Cynthia has learned Yiddish, and she’s now the oldest member of the Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus. The YPC chorus sings everything from traditional folk songs to jazz to classical music – Handel and Tchaikovsky – all in Yiddish. The group, which includes singers from age twenty-four to ninety, performs regularly on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Seeking Shelter: Memoir of a Jewish Childhood in Wartime Britain
I thought I had started late in getting my first book published at age sixty-nine. Cynthia had her first book, Seeking Shelter: Memoir of a Jewish Childhood in Wartime Britain, published last year at age eighty-nine.
As she explained: “Writing is something you can do forever. I mean, it’s not like being a professional athlete. You know, where you’ve burned out when you’re thirty.”
Writing Seeking Shelter took her decades. At first, Cynthia was writing family portraits of her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles so her children would learn about their ancestry. “My children were having babies. They weren’t the least bit interested in me or my background, but I knew there would come a time when they would be. I had gone through that cycle myself, and by the time I realized it, my grandmother had died.”
When she came upon an advertisement for a memoir writing class at Sarah Lawrence College, Cynthia enrolled. After she’d been in the class for several semesters, her instructor, Charles Salzberg, encouraged her to consider using the stories as a basis for a book. He saw something in the stories that Cynthia had not. She had a unique child’s perspective on World War II.
Charles said: “This is a very important part of history. Your generation, whether you like to hear it or not, is dying out. People will want to know this firsthand information about the day-to-day life of a child in wartime.” Cynthia wasn’t convinced until she realized that the other students were interested in her stories. Because she understood the importance of sharing her experiences with the public, she successfully completed a manuscript.
After the book had been written, edited, proofed, designed and printed, Cynthia needed to promote it. That required a whole new set of skills. She’s now given talks, both in the USA and England, and become active on social media. “I said to my kids: ‘I have a new career, and I’m 89 years old.’”
When I read her memoir, it transported me to Cynthia’s childhood in London and Wales. That time and place in history came alive for me. I could see Cynthia world as she saw it, feel what she felt, and share her experiences. Her life was often confusing, lonely, and scary, but also joyful, and filled with memorable people.
“My mother was a terrible cook.”
Cynthia began cooking as a teenager: “Almost for self-defense. My mother was a terrible cook. She regarded it as demeaning and thought you should work with your head and not with your hands.” Cynthia read cookbooks voraciously, trying out recipes. While living at a commune, she became the group’s cook. After a meal of veal that she had slaved over: “They all clapped. They loved it. It was almost like being on stage again.” That praise encouraged her to become an accomplished chef.
Her love of food and cooking brought an opportunity for Cynthia to become a partner in a specialty food store. “The marriage of food and business was what really drew me in.” It was an unusual career for a woman in the 1970s. Now that Seeking Shelter is in print, she’s working on a second book, about owning and running The Mousetrap – a cheese shop that expanded to become “the Zabar’s of Westchester” (NY).
As she told me: “It was an interesting time to start a store when neither my partner nor I knew anything about business. Talk about fools rush in! The store was a kind of microcosm for what was going on in the world around us.” She went on to say: “Women were starting to come out of their homes. Women who’d been housewives. College-educated, brilliant women had been home wiping noses and driving carpools. That was all that was expected of them.”
The Mousetrap book will include a history of launching and growing the store, as well as what was happening at the time in the women’s movement. And, Cynthia plans to include recipes from the store, of course, to give readers a taste of the 1970s.
“In April I will be ninety. Hopefully, this one won’t take as long as the first book, because I won’t live long enough.”
Me? I fully expect Cynthia to finish it, and look forward to seeing it in print.
© Karen Gershowitz (2/2/23) Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Follow Cynthia on Facebook.
Follow Cynthia on Instagram.
Click here to watch a performance of the Yiddish classic Oyfn veg shteyt a boym (By the Wayside Stands a Tree) by New York’s Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus. This video was posted on YouTube on the 120th anniversary of lyricist Itzik Manger’s birth (May 30, 1901).
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo Credit: Paula Markowitz Wittlin. Follow this link to “Pictures by Paula.”
Bottom Photo: With Rita at The Mousetrap – “A Gourmet’s Heaven” 🙂
All photos are used by FF2 with the permission of Cynthia Ehrenkrantz.
Interview conducted on Zoom on 1/11/23.