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Terry Yvette Goldstein
Terry Yvette Goldstein

Lives Lived: Terry Yvette Goldstein, 91 Add to ...

Mother, youth adviser, social activist. Born on Aug. 2, 1922, in New York; died on May 1, 2014, in Toronto, of natural causes, aged 91.

Terry Goldstein could have been a rabbi, had she been born in a later era. And although she never had the title, she certainly deserved it for the guidance she gave to young people in forging their roles as Jewish leaders.

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Born in the Bronx, Terry learned the power of family at a young age. She was 12 when her father died before her eyes in an amusement-park accident. Her mother, Lillian, was left alone to raise her and her younger siblings, Blanche and Gerry. Terry’s role as big sister gave her the nurturing skills she used for the rest of her life.

At the age of 20 she met her husband, Abe, when he was a soldier on furlough in New York. He had lost his mother when he was 13, and she found in him a kindred spirit. After eight weeks they married, and for more than 50 years he was the supportive man behind the powerful woman Terry would become.

Unfortunately, she inherited her mother’s lack of culinary skills. Although she tried to cook and bake, she never quite got there. Every night during their first week of marriage, so the family story goes, she would present a burned casserole or overcooked chicken, and Abe would kindly say: “How did you know I wanted it well-done?”

She also inherited her father’s spiritual side. After his death, her mother, although Jewish herself, had abandoned the strong and passionate ritual observances he had brought into their home. As a young wife and mother, Terry found she missed that solid spirituality and longed to establish it in her own family. She and Abe joined a Reform synagogue and there Terry found her passion – and her talent – as a youth adviser. When she discovered there was no social group for teenagers to experience Judaism together, she marched in to the rabbi’s office to demand he start one. “You do it!” he challenged. And she did.

The Temple Youth Group of her small synagogue was born and soon joined the organization of Reform synagogue youth groups, the National Federation of Temple Youth. When the regional body noticed her organizational skills and enthusiasm, and the admiration the teenagers had for her, she became head of all New York Reform youth groups. In 1963, when she was 41, the national office spotted her and made her the director of NFTY, which included youth groups in the 50 states and all Canadian provinces.

For 21 years she – an uneducated, working-class Bronx kid – was the only woman and the only non-rabbi to command the respect of an entire movement. Known affectionately as TYG (her own initials echoed that of Temple Youth Group), she travelled to every region, including in Canada, to be involved with “her kids.” Many of them became rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and scholars. One of them really was her kid: daughter Elyse, who has served as a rabbi in Toronto for 30 years and was the first woman to lead the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

For 15 summers, Terry held court at Kutz Camp in upstate New York where she taught up-and-coming Jewish leaders (and supplied them with late-night contraband candy). She led busloads of teenagers on anti-Vietnam War and pro-choice marches as part of the social justice programs of NFTY.

Terry loved Friday-night dinners where friends and colleagues were welcomed with open arms, but she always kept the biggest hugs for her daughters Elyse and Marsha, and for Abe. After Marsha died in 1992 and Abe passed away two years later, and as her memory began to decline, Terry moved to Toronto in 2005 to be closer to Elyse, son-in-law Baruch and beloved grandsons Noam, Carmi Yonah, and Micah.

Although Terry eventually lost all her memory, she will not be forgotten by those whose lives she touched.

Elyse Goldstein is Terry’s daughter.

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