Tag Archives: Estelle Margolis

Remembering Estelle Margolis

Estelle Margolis — an artist, political activist and longtime figure on the Post Road bridge, who was also energized by bringing her diverse Myrtle Avenue neighborhood together — died last week. She was 92.

In 2010, her then-17-year-old grandson Jonah Newman had an assignment for his American Protest Literature class in California: find people who had been politically active. He wrote about his grandmother Estelle, and her equally passionate husband Manny. He died in 2011, age 86. Here is part of what Jonah wrote:

As far back as I can remember, Emanuel and Estelle Margolis — my maternal grandparents — have been a part of my life. Every year my parents, my brothers and I join the rest of the Margolis clan at my grandparents’ home in Westport, Connecticut to celebrate Passover.

Emanuel Margolis and Estelle Thompson (“Papa” and “Buba” respectively) were both born in New York City in 1926. The house occupies a special place in my heart — like its own timeless world it remains the same every year, as comfortingly consistent as the presence of the two people who have lived there for five decades.

Perhaps it is because I have known my grandparents for my whole life that until recently, I had rarely thought about their rich backgrounds as political activists.  I discovered that my grandparents, who participated in many of the key social and political movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, are the very definition of living history.

Estelle Margolis was 87 during this 2014 protest on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Robert Baldrich)

Buba was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. Her family was hit hard by the Great Depression; her father often had trouble finding jobs and making ends meet. She was artistic, participating in arts, theater, and music programs at school.

She never went to college but was admitted to the graduate School of Architecture at Yale and graduated in 1955. Her drawing talent was strong, and as a young woman she made a living out of art and architecture. Her political activism began when she was an adolescent and continued throughout her life.

Her career as an activist began much earlier than Papa’s. At 12 she picketed outside Alexander’s Department Store in the Bronx in an attempt to get people to boycott Japanese silk after the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Throughout her life, Buba has employed several diverse methods — including picketing, art and hands-on involvement — and has drawn from her innate empathy to protest war, discrimination and economic inequality.

Over many years since then, the anti-war message has been consistently important. She says: “It overwhelms me with the thought of the devastating damage that has been done…What sense are we making out of the policy that keeps throwing young kids to their deaths?”

Buba’s sympathy may stem from her maternal instincts (she has 5 children and 10 grandchildren), and shows the simple human compassion that motivates her continued struggle against war. She was active in her criticism of the Vietnam War during the 1960’s and 70’s, and has protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the late 1980s, Sen. Jesse Helms attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Estelle Margolis responded with this painting.

Since 2005, Buba has helped lead a weekly vigil on a Westport bridge to protest the war in Iraq. Her signs at these present-day rallies say what they have said for decades: “Support The Troops, Bring Them Home.”

One of Buba’s natural skills has proved to be a lifelong tool for her activism. “I’ve been very lucky all my life because I know how to draw,” she says. Lucky is an understatement; in the late 1940’s Buba worked as an assistant to legendary artist Ben Shahn. In 1946, Buba and Shahn worked on an enormous collection of political leaflets and posters to support Democratic candidates across the country. “We created a leaflet for every single candidate,” she recalls.

But there are risks to political activism. In 1947, when she taught union organizing to black and white students at the desegregated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, angry vigilantes drove by, shouting and shooting at the building.

Even the government was an occasional threat. Buba says the FBI planted spies in the meetings of activist organizations at the school.

In 1970, Buba and a group of women protesting the Vietnam War by picketing in the middle of a busy street were almost run over by an angry truck driver. The women were arrested for obstructing traffic, but Papa used his legal skills to keep them out of prison.

Driven by her human empathy and making full use of her artistic talents, Buba continues to be a potent voice of protest. Although both she and Papa believe the world needs changing, they also believe that the world is inherently beautiful.

Papa and Buba fervently believe America and the world are fundamentally good.  We just need to fight to keep them that way.

(Click here to read Jonah’s full story — including much more about his grandfather, Manny. And click here to read an “06880” story from 2014, about how Estelle brought her Myrtle Avenue neighborhood together. A graveside service is set for today, Monday, March 4, 1 p.m. at Willowbrook Cemetery. Hat tip: Larry Weisman)

Estelle Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)

Old Barn Gets New, Progressive Life

Normally, I would not post a story about a political fundraiser — even one whose goals (helping Democrats regain the Senate) I agree with.

But this has a neat little back story that makes it “06880”-worthy. (And yes, I’d do the same if there’s a similar tie-in for a Republican fundraiser.)

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston own one of the most visible properties in Westport. Their handsome home — with gorgeous gardens and a wide lawn — sits on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle Avenues, kitty-corner from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

A while ago, Steve and Rondi bought an 1870 barn. It belonged to their next door neighbor Estelle Margolis, and her late husband Manny. The new owners spent nearly 2 years restoring it, then repurposing it as an office for Steve.

It’s enjoying a wonderful new life, while honoring Westport’s historic roots.

rondi-charleston-and-steve-ruchefsky-barn

Manny Margolis was similarly known for his devotion to America’s past and present. An attorney with a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights, he brought a draft refusal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and won.

As a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Manny was a strong advocate for low and moderate housing regulations.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

He and Estelle — his wife of 52 years — spent years at peace vigils in Westport.  They began during the Vietnam War.  For 6 years they stood together on the Post Road bridge, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Estelle still does.)

Manny was a staunch Democrat. Estelle still is. So, Steve and Rondi say, they’re thrilled to host an event this Sunday (September 18, 4 p.m.) that would have been dear to Manny’s progressive heart.

The fundraiser is for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Jon Tester of Montana — the organization’s chair — will attend; so will Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.

Manny Margolis will be there in spirit.

(For information on Sunday’s fundraiser, email frankiel@dscc.org)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Estelle Margolis: A View From The Bridge

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime political activist Estelle Margolis — writes:

I turn 90 years old this Friday (May 6). The next day, I will be back on the Post Road (Ruth Steinkraus Cohen) Bridge. My return is a birthday present to myself.

Many medical issues prevented my being there in 2015. Also, we had no specific message. It seems like the whole world is spinning out of control. We could not find one message for our signs to make sense.

Estelle Margolis in 2012. Every Saturday for years,she was part of an anti-war vigil on the Post Road bridge.

Estelle Margolis in 2012. Every Saturday for years,she was part of an anti-war vigil on the Post Road bridge.

There are currently 9,800 of our troops in Afghanistan. The plan is to reduce this number in half during 2016. It costs $79.4 billion for one year.

I found the perfect poster. It was done in 1969 by Sister Mary Corita to protest the Vietnam War. It says, “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” That universal message is as valid now as it was then.

It is also appropriate to say “Out of Afghanistan and Iraq NOW!”

The mental and physical harm being done to our young women and men in these 2 countries is devastating. 22 vets come home, can’t deal with life as they left it, and commit suicide every day.

I’m sorry I lost a whole year on the bridge. I know what I’m doing does not save one life, but I feel compelled to do it anyway.

Come join me.

 

Saturday Vigil

Every Saturday, 87-year-old Estelle Margolis stands vigil on the Post Road bridge. Here she was on February 1:

(Photo/Robert Baldrich)

(Photo/Robert Baldrich)

The other day, she wrote “06880”:

The sign breaks my heart. These “kids” are coming home with no way to deal with normal life. Their “family” is the troops they served with, and many want to go right back. We are not paying attention in this society to what I consider drastic social problems.

The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed by the needs of the returning vets. Not only the physically harmed, but the psychologically damaged. I saw a stat that the Department of Defense is dealing with over 400,000 vets in need, and they cannot handle it. There are many more now.

Where are we putting our money?  “Petty cash” on Karzai’s desk every week?  Making new weapons to kill people?  Over 8,000 vets a year killing themselves, and those are only the ones we know about. Add that to the troops still getting killed in Afghanistan. Tragic!

I don’t feel like I can do enough to make a difference. The message does get out to some motorists passing me on the bridge every Saturday morning. But only between 11 and 11:30 a.m. I can do better, but only in good weather.

Where are the college kids protesting?  Where are the Mothers for Peace? Where are the news stories about these hideous statistics?  Where are the debates in Congress?

I am the mother of every one of those incredibly courageous troops. They never could believe they would die in their 20s. Better believe it!

Julia Child, Manny Margolis And Joe McCarthy…

The Westport Library has selected the book for January’s “WestportReads” townwide program.

My Life in FranceIt’s My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. As usual, there will be creative tie-ins beyond “book talks.” Things like cooking demonstrations, recipe sharing, and Westporters’ recollections of Child’s impact on their lives.

There will also be a discussion of the McCarthy-era blacklist.

The reason is that Child’s husband, Paul, was investigated for “anti-American activity.” None was found, and he was allowed to keep his job.

Manny Margolis was not so lucky.

In 1947, he was a World War II veteran studying at the all-white, all-male University of North Carolina. A group of black students working on a voter registration drive needed a place to sleep. Manny got a nearby church to donate their basement. Then he organized a group of veterans — in uniform — to stay up all night. They made sure the Ku Klux Klan did not attack the group.

Four years later, Margolis was a Ph.D. student in international law at Harvard. He wanted to work for the State Department. But his mentor told him there were no Jews there. So Margolis got a job teaching international law at the University of Connecticut. He quickly became a very popular, and highly respected, instructor.

But the House Un-American Activities Committee sent representatives to the UConn president. They handed him a list with 4 names. “Fire them,” they said.

He did.

Margolis decided to become a lawyer. He called Yale, and asked where he could take the LSATs. The man on the phone recognized his now-notorious name. “You’re Manny Margolis?” he asked. “You’re in!”

Manny Margolis

Manny Margolis

Margolis graduated from law school in 1956. He dedicated his life to defending the 1st Amendment, civil liberties and civil rights. In 1971 — while living in Westport — he argued (and won) a Supreme Court case on behalf of Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.

Estelle Margolis — Manny’s widow — plans to tell his blacklisting story in January, as part of WestportReads.

The library hopes other Westporters will too. If you’ve got a tale to tell like Margolis’ — or Julia Child’s husband — email mparmelee@westportlibrary.org.

It’s a “recipe” for a fascinating — and important — discussion.

Estelle Margolis And Manti Te’o, Together On “06880”

One Westporter made national news this week.

Another reported it.

Estelle Margolis earlier this winter. Every Saturday, she is part of an anti-war vigil on the Post Road bridge.

Estelle Margolis earlier this winter. Every Saturday, she is part of an anti-war vigil on the Post Road bridge.

The New York Times took note of Estelle Margolis’ not guilty plea to a breach of peace charge. The 86-year-old longtime peace activist brought a BB gun, pellets and a box of .45-caliber ammunition to an RTM meeting this month. The town body was debating gun control.

The Times said:

The episode has generated debate on local news Web sites, where the headlines usually tell of shoplifters and charity drives, and between friends who said she had meant no harm and others who acknowledged her respected place in town but maintained that her protest could have ended with someone hurt.

The paper also reported on her open letter:

I need to apologize to everyone in Westport for my ill-conceived attempt to bring attention to the pressing need for serious gun and ammunition control. I deeply regret the fact that what I did was dangerous and created a great deal of anxiety for everyone and especially the young police officers at the meeting.

In the same letter, it added, “she called for curbs on guns and ammunition and for better mental health care, and criticized the National Rifle Association as holding too much sway.”

Meanwhile, Staples graduate  and current ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap snagged Manti Te’o for an exclusive 2-hour, off-camera interview.

Manti Te'o and Jeremy Schaap.

Manti Te’o and Jeremy Schaap.

On ESPN’s website, Schaap dug into the beyond-bizarre story about a Notre Dame Heisman Trophy candidate football player’s lengthy romance with an automobile accident victim and dead Stanford student who was not hit by a drunk driver, did not have leukemia, did not go to Stanford — okay, technically, she did not exist — and heard Te’0 deny any involvement in the “hoax.”

According to Deadspin — which broke the head-spinning story — Te’o’s “apparent defense is that he had no reason to think his twice-undead dead long-distance girlfriend, whom he never met or saw outside of photographs, whose funeral he never thought to attend, might have been a phony.”

7 Years On The Bridge

In the 1960s and ’70s, a good-sized group gathered every Saturday morning in front of Town Hall (the current Spruce store next to Restoration Hardware). Week in and week out, they protested the Vietnam War.

Estelle Margolis, on the bridge.

Since 2005, a much smaller vigil has taken place on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. For over 300 Saturdays, several folks have held a “peace vigil” to draw attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Estelle Margolis was there 40 years ago. She’s still working hard for peace. This Saturday from 11-11:30 a.m., she says, “we will ‘celebrate’ the 7th anniversary of our peace vigil, if celebrating is an appropriate word for this serious mission.”

She adds:

We have failed to generate an influential peace movement in this country. I believe it would be different if we had a draft. We do get a lot of honks of approval on the bridge for our message: “End the Wars, Bring the Troops Home!, Get Out of Afghanistan, NOW!”

We will commemorate 7 long years on this Vigil. We are sick about the time we have been trapped in these two countries. President Bush created a living hell that is now 10 years old.

After 10 years we are still in Afghanistan at the insistence of President Karzai, who is known to be corrupt and untrustworthy. We support this fake “democracy” with our troops lives, financial aid and weapons while the Afghans make huge amounts of money exporting heroine. The latest figure estimates over 300,000 acres of poppies are planted every year….

The scene on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, several years ago.

How many horribly wounded young people could we have saved with a serious nationwide peace movement? How many lives? Over 6,000 dead and over 40,000 wounded. Over 400,000 who are in need of help from the Veterans Administration and a record high number of suicides among returning vets. How many more will there be? What have we done?

Come join us and lend your voice to the call for peace.

Honoring Estelle And Manny Margolis

It’s a standard school assignment:  Interview someone, then write about it.  The idea is to develop interviewing skills, learn history from someone who lived it — and then connect what you learned with the world.

I can’t imagine anyone carrying out that assignment better than Jonah Newman.  The 17-year-old son of Staples graduate Abby Margolis was asked — by his American Protest Literature teacher in California — to find people who had been politically active.

He did not have to look far.  His grandparents — longtime Westporters Estelle and Manny Margolis — define the term.

Here’s part of what Jonah wrote:

As far back as I can remember, Emanuel and Estelle Margolis — my maternal grandparents — have been a part of my life.  Every year my parents, my brothers and I join the rest of the Margolis clan at my grandparents’ home in Westport, Connecticut to celebrate Passover.

Emanuel "Manny" Margolis

The house occupies a special place in my heart — like its own timeless world it remains the same every year, as comfortingly consistent as the presence of the two people who have lived there for five decades.  Perhaps it is because I have known my grandparents for my whole life that until recently, I had rarely thought about their rich backgrounds as political activists.  I discovered that my grandparents, who participated in many of the key social and political movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, are the very definition of living history.

Emanuel Margolis and Estelle Thompson (“Papa” and “Buba” respectively) were both born in New York City in 1926.  Papa, whose father and stepfather were both rabbis, came from a conservative Jewish family.  He was highly academic, and attended University of North Carolina, Harvard graduate school and Yale Law School.

When he was only 18 years old, Papa fought in Germany during World War II. He was wounded in the knee at the Battle of the Bulge.  He returned to college after the war thanks the G.I. Bill, and it was at UNC that he began his career as a political activist.

Buba was also raised in an Orthodox Jewish home.  Her family was hit hard by the Great Depression; her father often had trouble finding jobs and making ends meet.  She was artistic, participating in arts, theater, and music programs at school.

She never went to college but was admitted to the graduate School of Architecture at Yale and graduated in 1955. Her drawing talent was strong, and as a young woman she made a living out of art and architecture. Her political activism began when she was an adolescent and continued throughout her life.

Papa’s experiences in Germany changed his perspective about the world and catalyzed his transformation into a political activist upon his return to the United States. Because of his religious Jewish background, he had never thought about becoming an activist; he had been assured God would make the world better.

“World War II dispelled myths about my life,” he says. “Previously, there had been no reason for me to be involved in political activity because I believed in the power of God to solve the problems of the world.” His view of life was shattered by the reality of war.

He remembers seeing a Reader’s Digest article that said “there are no atheists in foxholes,” and calling it nonsense.  The war had “changed [him] from a religious believer to an atheist.”

With the dissolution of his belief in God came a “great yearning for activism and political activity.” “I now believed,” Papa says, “that the world needed changing, and we could change the world.”

Returning to UNC after the war, Papa found a much greater social awareness at the school.  He began writing for the school newspaper about current issues, and joined several activist organizations on campus.  At one point, Papa and other veterans used the organizational skills they developed in the military to protect a group of desegregationist bus riders from a mob armed with baseball bats and 2-by-4s.

Becoming an attorney after college in many ways inhibited his activism, since the profession demands exclusive and objective devotion to the law. However, Papa notes, “a lawyer can play a very important part in helping ensure the protection of rights.”

He continued fighting for his political beliefs, specifically human rights.  He repeatedly argued in support of Constitutional principles, in particular the First Amendment.  He even defended the Ku Klux Klan’s right to march publicly, contending that it was expression of free speech. After the U.S. became involved in the Vietnam War, Papa helped young people who had been arrested while protesting the war argue their cases in court, again invoking the First Amendment.

From his marriage to Buba in 1959 until the present day, Papa has persisted in his political activism.  He is a regular columnist for the Connecticut Law Tribune, often writing about political or human rights issues. He has been a dedicated participant in anti-war protests, from Vietnam until Iraq and Afghanistan, with his wife and family.

He believes that the reason so many people support war is because they do not understand it. Having fought in a war himself, Papa firmly believes that “war is a monstrosity” that wreaks emotional damage on all involved, including those on the home front. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Papa asserts that “even the GI’s do not know their mission…they haven’t the foggiest idea about what they’re trying to accomplish…We’re spending trillions on wars that have no foreseeable ends.”  Though he is 84 years old, Papa’s continued activism supports the principle that humans can indeed “change the world.”

In the late 1980s, Sen. Jesse Helms attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Estelle Margolis responded with this painting.

Throughout her life, Buba has employed several diverse methods — including picketing, art and hands-on involvement — and has drawn from her innate empathy to protest war, discrimination and economic inequality.

Her career as an activist began much earlier than Papa’s.  At 12 she picketed outside Alexander’s Department Store in the Bronx in an attempt to get people to boycott Japanese silk after the Japanese invaded Manchuria.

Over many years since then, the anti-war message has been consistently important.  She says: “It overwhelms me with the thought of the devastating damage that has been done…What sense are we making out of the policy that keeps throwing young kids to their deaths?”

Buba’s sympathy may stem from her maternal instincts (she has 5 children and 10 grandchildren), and shows the simple human compassion that motivates her continued struggle against war.  She was active in her criticism of the Vietnam War during the 1960’s and 70’s, and has protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2005, Buba has helped lead a weekly vigil on a Westport bridge to protest the war in Iraq. Her signs at these present-day rallies say what they have said for decades: “Support The Troops, Bring Them Home.”

One of Buba’s natural skills has proved to be a lifelong tool for her activism. “I’ve been very lucky all my life because I know how to draw,” she says. Lucky is an understatement; in the late 1940’s Buba worked as an assistant to  legendary artist Ben Shahn. In 1946, Buba and Shahn worked on an enormous collection of political leaflets and posters to support Democratic candidates across the country. “We created a leaflet for every single candidate,” she recalls.

But there are risks to political activism. In 1947, when she taught union organizing to black and white students at the desegregated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, angry vigilantes drove by, shouting and shooting at the building.

Even the government was an occasional threat.  Buba says the FBI planted spies in the meetings of activist organizations at the school.

In 1970, Buba and a group of women protesting the Vietnam War by picketing in the middle of a busy street were almost run over by an angry truck driver. The women were arrested for obstructing traffic, but Papa used his legal skills to keep them out of prison.

Driven by her human empathy and making full use of her artistic talents, Buba continues to be a potent voice of protest. Although both she and Papa believe the world needs changing, they also believe that the world is inherently beautiful.

Papa and Buba fervently believe America and the world are fundamentally good.  We just need to fight to keep them that way.