The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
Bob Dylan (1963)
On February 22, I went to New York City to see my grandson Jacob, who works for an advertising agency, and my granddaughter Susie, who is a sophomore at Barnard College. We met that afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, ate dinner at an excellent restaurant, and saw a Broadway play called “Girl from the North Country.” It features more than twenty Bob Dylan songs and is set in Duluth, Minnesota, where Dylan was born. Other than our time just being together, the play was the highlight of the weekend.
In 1947, the Feldmans arrived in Claremont—parents Chaim and Lisa and their sons Martin and Stephen. They came to New Hampshire from a displaced persons’ camp in Germany and, before that, from the Polish forest where they had eluded the Nazis for two years.
My grandmother, Lillian Firestone, and Chaim Feldman were cousins, both originally from the old country, a village in Poland named Dereczyn. In the late 1930s, my grandmother’s Uncle Bernstein went back from Lowell, where he had become a successful businessman, to Dereczyn to see the relatives he had left behind. When he returned, he brought with him Chaim’s teenage sister Ruchel. Her English name should have been Rachel, but my mother suggested an alternative, and Ruchel became my cousin Romaine.
While their parents got settled in New York, the boys remained with my grandparents on Myrtle Street and attended the nearby Bluff School. There had been no time for sports in the Polish forest, but they did know how to skate, and that winter my father flooded a rink next to our house.
By the end of the school year they were fluent English speakers. They left Claremont, attended New York public schools, graduated from City College of New York, and became CPAs. Martin joined an accountant named Marshall Gelfand who, by sheer coincidence, grew up in Claremont. In 1967, the firm became Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman with offices in New York and, later, in Nashville, Los Angeles, and London as well. They specialized in representing entertainers.
As time passed, I mostly lost touch with Stevie, but not with Martin. And not with his Aunt Romaine, whom he cherished. Following his son’s bar mitzvah in Armonk, New York, I had my last conversation with Chaim, who was sitting next to his sister Romaine by the pool outside Martin’s house. “Joey, if you think you understand how bad it was, imagine something a thousand times worse than the Holocaust,” he told me, “and you still wouldn’t know how terrible it was.”
At Chaim’s funeral I looked a few rows ahead and saw Martin and Stephen side by side, Martin’s arm around his brother’s shoulders. I remember asking myself, what are they thinking right now? It was not a hard question to answer.
Martin retired many years ago after a long and successful career. Part of his professional life was to accompany his clients on tour and keep watch over the box office. I saw him do so when his client, Bob Dylan appeared in Boston in 1974, and again in 1975 with the Rolling Thunder Revue. Yes, my Cousin Martin was the accountant and financial manager for the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.
When I spoke with Martin a few days after my February trip to New York, I told him how much we had enjoyed seeing “Girl from the North Country” and hearing the iconic Dylan songs. He told me he planned to get tickets but had just received disturbing news from his doctor —advanced cancer.
On March 12, Broadway shut down. And on April 10, Martin Feldman died. He was more than my cousin. He was my dear friend, a righteous person, and my last direct family connection to the Holocaust.
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young
Bob Dylan (1974)