By Deb Silverthorn
Friedel Marx, a beloved mother and grandmother and proud member of Tiferet Israel, celebrated her 100th birthday recently with a loving gathering at the Aaron Family JCC.
“The party was beautiful, and many people came to say hello,” said Marx, who continues to live independently and is appreciative of her aide Barbara Golston. “I don’t know how they planned it or knew I’d live so long but it was lovely.”
Born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to Elsa and Berthold Hess, Friedel was the older sister of Josef, all of blessed memory. She lost her father when she was 6, her mother ultimately remarrying Sigmund Pinkowitz. In Friedel’s early teens, life changed quickly.
“My mother was a wise woman and she felt the Nazis were coming,” Marx recalled. In 1936, she sent Josef to New York as a bar mitzvah gift from an aunt who lived there. A year later she, her mother and stepfather followed.
Josef’s trip changed the family’s life in many ways, for Friedel most fortuitously as her brother befriended Manfred “Manny” Marx. When Friedel got to the United States, the two met when Manny delivered cookies from his mother to hers.
While in the army in New Guinea, Manny wrote to young Friedel every day. In one letter, he asked why she hadn’t said “yes.” She replied asking, “Yes to what?” He wrote back “Will you marry me?” and she answered, “when you’re back safe, I’ll marry you.”
The couple married on April 26, 1946, said Marx, interrupting her story to recall the couple’s vow renewal, 50 years later, at Tiferet Israel with Rabbis Yitzchak Cohen, Steven Jacobs and Stuart Weiss officiating.
“From New York we came to Dallas when the girls were young. It was after a call at 1 in the morning about a job. The only thing we knew about Dallas was Neiman Marcus and my mother said ‘go.’ Here, we lived a beautiful life.”
Marx went to college after her daughters left home and worked at Texas Instruments for more than 25 years in operations, engineering and process control. After retiring, the Marxes enjoyed traveling on cruises, to Israel and to Europe including returns to Germany.
The couple, and Friedel since Manny’s passing in 2009, participated in Aaron Family JCC programming and they were involved in the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, both recording testimonies in 1987. Their passion? Both were connected in every way at Congregation Tiferet Israel.
“Friedel’s tough in the strongest, most remarkable way. From the minute her family came to Tiferet Israel this has been her place, her kitchen, her home and we couldn’t be more blessed,” said Rabbi Shawn Zell. “Prior to the pandemic, and we hope again, Friday mornings mean Friedel’s in the kitchen making the best egg salad. Friedel, we bless you today and every day.”
Warren and Rose Abrams are just two of Marx’s fans at Tiferet Israel, and said they have been happy to be a part of their community. Whether meals delivered, invitations extended or rides offered, helping Marx is never a “must do” but always a “want to.”
“We’ve been close for many years and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for Friedel,” said Warren. “She and Manny did so much for Tiferet, they’re legends of the shul. Her youthful, ageless spirit makes her always a delight to be around.”
Friedel’s family has grown and flourished through her daughters Brenda (Bill) Dunn and Leslie (Carl) Schwanke; grandchildren Aaron (Amanda Marquette) Schwanke, Daniel (Michele) Schwanke, Rachel Schwanke and Heath Dunn; and great-grandchildren Abraham and Beatrice Schwanke and Michael and Samantha Schwanke.
“Mom’s strong-willed and determined; she had to be growing up when all was chaos,” said Leslie. “Mostly, she loved to dance with Dad. She loved him with all her heart and showed us what it meant to argue and forgive at the same time.”
She recalls her mother, who hated football, chaperoning Tiferet kids with the Men’s Club as the female chaperone, then spending the weekend as Girl Scout campout volunteer.
“My folks lived an incredible life together, Dad ’til he was 90 and Mom still. We’re grateful for all the connections, her good health and for everything that has her still here,” said Brenda.
“Oma’s so sweet and incredibly special. She’s always been focused on cleanliness and caring for her belongings, teaching us the same,” said grandson Aaron Schwanke, recalling a set of tiny cups in which she’d serve drinks to the children. “She never forgot the lessons from the old country and she always set a good example for us.”
Marx said she doesn’t have secrets to reaching 100. She eats what she likes, with fish and cheese her favorites. She eschews soda and television, gets lots of sleep and spends time on her iPad.
“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I was born in difficult times but I always thought I was Jewish before anything. I’ve taught my family to be proud of being Jewish — that has made a good life.”