Longtime Roslyn resident Emily Rosenstein Lehrman died during heart surgery on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at North Shore Hospital. She was 91.
Though she and her husband, retired psychiatrist Nathaniel (Nat) S. Lehrman, MD, had moved to The Amsterdam at Harborside in neighboring Port Washington four years ago, their roots had been firmly planted in Roslyn over 60 years ago, when they bought a model house on Nob Hill Gate in East Hills.
Lehrman came to America from Russia with her mother in 1935, at the age of 12. Having arrived without speaking English – only Russian, and a little bit of Yiddish and German – Emily became what her elder son Leonard Lehrman, a composer and librarian, called “the greatest editor anyone who knew her has ever known.”
“My mother was intensely literate,” recalled her younger son, writer and Tufts music professor Paul Lehrman, “and the best speaker of English I ever knew. She was a wonderful explainer, and had a great sense of how to choose just the right word, and fit it the best way into the sentence.”
“Once my colleagues and I became aware of Emily’s extraordinary abilities,” said Louis Pisha of the Long Island University library faculty, on which Lehrman served for 28 years. “We came to call on her regularly to write or edit our reports and documents, particularly those where delicacy and felicity of expression especially mattered.”
Lehrman’s mother, Sima, had been a teacher and a bookkeeper in Leningrad, Russia, but after her husband died in 1931, she came with her daughter to Boston. Although money was tight, Sima’s greatest hope was getting her daughter into college. The day Simmons accepted Lehrman, on a full scholarship, she called it “the most joyous, the most wonderful, the happiest day of my life.”
While a freshman at Simmons, she met the love of her life, Nathaniel Lehrman, a Harvard senior, at a square dance, where he was playing the violin. He bet his roommate $5 he would marry her, which he did, two years later—collecting the bet as a wedding present. During World War II, Lehrman worked as a secretary for the leading US expert on Soviet drama, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, and in 1943, toured New England with Solomon Mikhoels, the founder/director of the Moscow Jewish Theater, acting as his interpreter. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Lehrman became a U.S. citizen, and 12 days later she and Nat were married.
After Nat Lehrman finished medical school, Emily Lehrman completed a Masters degree in Russian literature at Columbia. Following her graduation, she worked as the secretary for the department chairman, Ernest J. Simmons, and then for the American Soviet Medical Society.
“Had she gone on for a doctorate,” her husband recalled, “she would have become one of America’s leading Russian experts.”
In 1948, in exchange for the Army having paid for Nat’s medical school tuition, he and his wife found themselves at Fort Riley, Kan., where their first child, Leonard, was born. After two years, they moved to Glen Oaks, Queens, where their second son Paul was born in 1952, and in 1954, after Nat Lehrman finished his psychiatric training, moved to Roslyn, where their daughter Betty was born a year later.
In the early 1960s Emily taught Russian for Adult Education at Adelphi College, and then went back to school, getting a library science masters at C.W. Post College. She catalogued the Russian collection at Hofstra College, reorganized the medical library at Kingsboro State Hospital (where Nat Lehrman was Clinical Director, 1973-78), and then worked for 28 years at LIU-Post.
Lehrman translated many works both from and into Russian. Her translation of Natalya Baranskaya’s classic Soviet feminist novella, A Week Like Any Other Week was published in Massachusetts Review and her translation of Folktales of the Amur was published in a lavishly illustrated book by Abrams. With her son Leonard Lehrman, she co-wrote translations of poems and libretti by Yevtushenko, Mayakovsky, Chekhov, Sholokhov, Pushkin and many others.
Active in Women’s Strike for Peace, the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, and Great Neck SANE, she served a term as North Roslyn School PTA president and was on the Friends of the Bryant Library for several years. She and her husband were deeply involved in the effort to replace the aging and overcrowded North Roslyn School, and were very proud when a picture of their son Paul, wielding a shovel at the groundbreaking of the Harbor Hill School, appeared in The Roslyn News on April 13, 1960.
Memorials to Emily Lehrman were held on Jan. 16 at The Amsterdam, and on Jan. 18 at Gutterman’s in Woodbury and again at The Amsterdam.
Videos of the events can be viewed at www.tinyurl.com/ljlvideos. At the funeral service, Rabbi Joshua Minkin quoted one family friend who described Lerman as “an unusual combination of kindness and sharp intelligence. Why do so many people have just one or the other?”
In her own memoirs, she called herself the product of two cultures.
“When she left the USSR,” Minkin said, “a friend exclaimed: ‘You are going to a capitalist country!?’ And after she’d been in the US a while she was asked: ‘You lived in a communist country!? She said many times that she and Nat together wanted both to have a family and to change the world. ‘And my family turned out pretty well,’ she said, ‘but the world? Could have been better.’”
The warmth of her smile and her gentle, efficient strength will never be forgotten. In his final remarks, Rabbi Minkin urged friends and family to remember her legacy and “pay it forward.” Donations to Doctors Without Borders and/or Planned Parenthood have been made in Emily’s name and are welcome by her family.