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A Tribute To The Late Evelyn Weinstein

(Editor’s Note: This article, written by Karen Weisberg, appeared in the July 26, 1984 issue of the Great Neck Record in an article entitled “Grandes Dames” Evelyn Weinstein. This was one of a series of profiles on the extraordinary women of Great Neck, who, over the years, with style and dedication, helped shape this community. The Record is reprinting the article as a tribute to Evelyn Weinstein, who died earlier this month.)

The waters are calm on Little Neck Bay and Evelyn Weinstein appears equally calm and serene as she gazes out upon the scene from the vantage point of her living room, a room designed to take full advantage of the view.

Her present calm was attained after many years of dedicated and all-consuming activity on behalf of numerous political and social organizations. A product of the intense social activism of the Brooklyn College campus during World War II, she majored in psychology and sociology and minored in speech. She earned her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University in 1945. Thus, substantially armed, she was ready to improve—if not conquer—the world.

In short order she secured a job as a social worker, met and married Jack Weinstein, now a federal judge, and within the year gave birth to their first son. Her career continued apace, as she worked at an evening position at Jamaica Hospital while still living in Brooklyn.

Her gentian-blue eyes seeking the horizon, she recalls: “That job at night was a kind of first in social work. With the American Red Cross, Jamaica Hospital and the Veteran’s Administration working together, we set up a clinic for veterans that involved four psychiatrists, myself and 12 patients. I often worked until 1 or 2 in the morning. I vividly remember schlepping home to Brooklyn by subway from Union Hall Street in Jamaica. In today’s context, it set a pattern for my work. I’ve always been interested in agencies coalescing. It’s a talent to know how to get them to do that without each one guarding their own turf.”

After several years, the young family moved to Bayside, taking life in stride. By the time a third son was born—some 30 years ago—the Weinsteins arrived in Great Neck, a move which proved to be temporarily traumatic: “I’m tremendously urban by nature. We moved from the teeming streets of the garden apartments in Bayside. I remember my reaction to our first walk on West Terrace Road to Allenwood Park. It overwhelmed me. It was the eeriest feeling of ‘where is everyone?’ I found the sandbox and the only adults there were the servants. My solutions were first, be maladjusted, and second, find a job.”

Securing a part-time job at Long Island Jewish Hospital five mornings a week was not too difficult, considering her experience as part of the Jamaica Hospital team.

With the interests of the individual vs. “The System” always paramount, Ms. Weinstein soon became part of Community Advocates and, as a representative of that group, helped with others to form the Nassau Action Coalition (NAC) in 1974. “I and about four or five others got together as we felt that it was terribly important to look at systems such as the welfare system and the health care system. The Social Security Supplemental Income Program had caused so many snafus that a lot of people were hurting terribly. It was out of that crisis that we formed NAC—a coalition of organizations—to take a hard look and see what within the system was impacting upon the individual. I was trying to say in NAC (and in the Community Advocates) that I’m tired of adjusting people to systems. I was happy because now there was an emphasis on something other than therapy. Both were essentially consumer efforts to get people to know their rules and regulations because through knowledge there is empowerment.”

In recognition of those efforts, in 1978 Ms. Weinstein was named Social Worker of the Year in Nassau County. Her work with NAC continues, now in the role of “Founding Mother” or elder statesperson.

Since last year, Evelyn Weinstein has served as president of Eleanor Roosevelt chapter of the American Jewish Congress, having been an articulate member for the past 22 years and a recipient of the group’s Woman of the Year Award in 1972. She elaborates, “I’m president now because of my interest in political and social issues and the position allows me to do something toward those ends. The organization is concerned with human rights and civil liberties as well as being concerned with Israel and anti-Semitism in the world. Right now we’re working on a project, ‘Women in Politics.’

“We’ve just formed a coalition of Women’s Issues ’84 with Womanspace, Unitarian Church Women, the League of Women Voters, and the National Council of Jewish Women. We would like all women’s groups to join in the effort to educate all women on women’s issues with a view to seeing which national candidates will have their interests, and their children’s interests, at heart.”

Long politically active in the community, she notes: “I support Sane, the League of Women Voters, the RDA (Reform Democratic Association), the ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) and the American Civil Liberties Union because they hold points of view I feel are important.”

She laughs, “I hold more ‘benign’ memberships in Hadassah, Copay and the Nassau County Museum of Art. I’m political in NAC and AJC.”

Reflecting a moment, she continues: “I guess one of the most political things I did was helping to form American Mothers Unlimited, a woman’s movement to protest the Vietnam War.

“We wanted women to come out of the woodwork—those women who were leery of more militant organizations. The Women’s Strike for Peace was very active and very good, but we knew in reality some women shied away from it, so we formed this parallel group.”

Involvement in this organization was clearly motivated by the existence of her own three young men at home. Describing her sons as “beautiful boys—they’re delicious”—she enthuses: “They’re kind to their parents and to each other. They’re extremely personable and bright with all the benefits of growing up in this Shangri La of Great Neck. I used to have that snobbishness about what ‘profession’ they’d enter—but they’ve taught me about life. Not everyone has to be a doctor or lawyer.”

Seth, fast approaching 38, manages a real-estate development firm in New York; Michael, 32, is a doctor in family practice in Oregon working for a poverty medical clinic; Howard, just turned 30, works for Continental Extrusion Co. in Manhattan. None of the three is married, although number one and number two sons have live-in mates of long standing. Their mother confesses she looks forward to having grandchildren, but concedes, “That’s the last reason in the world they should have children.”

On the horizon, Ms. Weinstein sees the prospect of a new field of endeavor in career counseling—an extension of her social work training. Sensing approaching “burnout,” she recently curtailed some of her social work and embarked upon and completed an internship at Nassau County Women’s Service in Plainview. She notes: “This is what I want to do next, possibly by October. I want very much to get involved in work again.” Almost parenthetically she adds, “I’m sorry now that I didn’t go to law school when Jack was teaching at Columbia, but at the time I felt too inundated. We lived in Brooklyn and I had the children—just the trip to get to school would have been a hassle. I was of the generation that placed the husband’s career first, even though I always worked. It was under the simplest conditions—close to home and part-time.

“In retrospect I would have done things differently. I would have gotten full-time help and worked full-time. I didn’t resent it at all, but now I think I would have been more ambitious, more aggressive, less shy.

“Now, as I said, I want involvement again—but part of me doesn’t want to give up some of this new freedom and time.” Time to rapidly walk the track at the Merchant Marine Academy to work off the few extra pounds she attributes to the “devilishly delicious danish served at the American Jewish Congress meetings,” and time to polish her comedic talents. “In my ‘old age’ I’m known as the ‘Joke Lady.’ I have a propensity for joke telling—from one liners, to ethnic jokes, to off-color jokes. Friends ask, ‘How do you remember those things?’ and I answer, ‘Because I’m not working and I have nothing else in my head.’”

Don’t you believe it.