By Deb Silverthorn
Sue and Sam Sayah today celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary, reflecting on the dream that began June 17, 1954, at Hotel Delmonico in New York City.
“We’re the most fortunate people,” said Sue. “Everyone is so attentive, we’re in good health, we have a beautiful home and we’re blessed to have met. Our lives have been so enriched.”
She was born Maxine Sue Mendelsohn, the daughter of George and Ruth and sister of Irwin, all of blessed memory. Sam was the son of David and Ines and the brother of Max, all of blessed memory, and Larry.
They’re both native New Yorkers: She’s of Ashkenazic heritage and from Brooklyn and later Elizabeth, New Jersey, and he’s of Sephardic ancestry from Turkey, born in the Bronx. She was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan and he rooted for the Yankees. They were matched up in 1952 by friends Judy Farmer and Morton Miller, and married one week after her college graduation from Newark State Teachers College (now Kean University).
The Sayahs’ married life started on a honeymoon to Miami, Havana, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica and was “idyllic,” she recalls.
They lived first in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he in the family dress manufacturing business and she as an elementary school teacher until the kids came along: David, Richard and Elizabeth.
“Everyone got along and we were grateful for one another’s families,” said Sam. “We’ve always been close and with so much love. Our nieces and nephews are like our own.”
When the two speak of their mothers’ specialties — spinach bourekas on his side and sweet and sour salmon on hers — you can see the delight in their family.
“My parents are so generous and to each other they are overflowing in the way they’ve given their soul to one another,” said David, who lives in Jerusalem. Until a few years ago, the Sayahs made annual visits to all branches of their family tree. “They’re absolutely and completely family oriented. Even from thousands of miles away we have a loving relationship and I honor them.”
“Dad will say ‘at home is the best restaurant’ and Mom says ‘Dad knows everything and how to do anything,’” said daughter Elizabeth Nevelow. “They’ve always complemented each other and been so cute as they care for one another, always making it seem that they’ve had many more good times than hard.”
In 1961, the Sayahs moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to open the family company’s dress manufacturing office. They found community there in the Heska Amuna synagogue and the JCC.
“We had the very best childhood in Knoxville so our parents were doing something right,” said Elizabeth. “Whether it was spending time at the lake, at the JCC, or at any one of our homes for a holiday, the close friends we had were our family.”
Changes in his industry prompted the sale of Terry Ann Sportswear and in 1974, Sam took a job as head designer of ladies’ apparel with J.C. Penney, a move to Dallas that brought him close to his brother Larry, sister-in-law Debby of blessed memory and their children.
Shortly after they moved to Dallas, Sue became involved with the National Council of Jewish Women, taught English as a second language in DISD and in 1977 took on the role of Jewish Family Service’s first fulltime volunteer coordinator, a role she held for 20 years. In retirement, she served on the board of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society and he would provide transportation for clients of JFS.
The Sayahs loved traveling to national parks with their children. They treasure theater, music and museums and they are as happy exploring new places as they are at home hosting Shabbat dinner or playing cards with their friends.
From their children David (Batia), Richard (Louise) and Elizabeth (Ron) Sue, 88, and Sam, 92, have 17 grandchildren, 50-“something” great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have parents that have had such a successful marriage based on mutual respect, values and interests. They both are responsible, industrious and committed to their family and friends,” said Richard, who like his sister lives just blocks from his parents’ Dallas home. “My mother is an excellent storyteller and Dad is a good listener. I love to watch the way he looks at her when she’s speaking. Despite any challenges, they have always gone out of their way to support us and all the children.”
Friday nights are always Shabbat dinner at the Sayahs’ home with a variant of their families’ chicken and stuffed cabbage, Spanish rice and roasted vegetables. Even through the pandemic with only a short time physically apart, they are connected and one.
“Our life has been magic and we live our fortune,” Sue said.
“The Shearith Klei Kodesh team wishes Sue and Sam a huge mazal tov on their 67th anniversary. It is an incredible milestone and testament to a lifetime of love and devotion to one another,” said Rabbi Ari Sunshine of Congregation Shearith Israel. “We hope their love only continues to increase with every additional year they are gifted to spend together!”
Recalling their first date, to the New York City Ballet, Sue remembers Sam dancing through the streets on their way home. “I loved that he loved it so.”
Together they’ve danced, and may the orchestra play on.