Sheila Schuman and her family were among the earliest Jewish settlers in Apple Valley when they arrived here about 40 years ago. Marty and Sheila still live there, while their daughter Bari and son Scott (each with two children of their own), are currently all living in the Twin Cities. Sheila is perhaps best recognized around temple for her years working at the Mount Zion Gift Shop, followed by several years on our office staff, and throughout, for her extensive efforts on behalf of Sisterhood and the Women of Reform Judaism, both at Mount Zion and nationally. Their family’s path seems to have toggled between Jewish and non-Jewish communities, somehow finding aunts and uncles all along the way.
We may as well start at the beginning. Can you tell me about your growing up years?
I lived my first 12 years in a small town in New York called Pine Bush. My parents were Shirley and Jack Stein, and I have a sister Marcia who is two years younger, and now lives in San Diego. My parents were the first and only Jews when they moved there. It must have seemed like they had horns. By the time we moved away things were better. My father owned the United Cigar Store in town, which was like the town’s general store, with groceries and toys and clothes.
After a while my father bought 64 acres in a nearby town, Walker Valley, and built a bungalow colony there, with 23 bungalows, or cottages, is what we would call them here. There was very little air conditioning in New York City, so people would come stay in the bungalows for the summer, and many would come back year after year. And eventually he sold the store to his brother and just worked on the bungalows full time, because they would need repairs during the winter months. So we lived in Pine Bush, but during the summer we would all go live at the bungalow colony.
How long did that last?
By the time I was 12 my parents had separated, and I moved to Bayside, in Queens, with my mother and sister. We lived in a coop, in a courtyard, garden unit – and we bought it for $150! Those were the days. So I started 7th grade there, but I hated it. I had come from a school that was more advanced than they were, and it was hard to make friends. So I was not very active, but eventually I graduated from high school there.
Did you know some or all of your grandparents during those years?
I never knew any of them. My father was born in Warsaw and came here when he was 7, and my mother was born here. But I am named after my two grandmothers, Sarah and Dora, so I am Sheila Doris.
What were your Jewish connections like growing up?
We basically had no connection in Pine Bush. We celebrated Chanukah, but we did it on Christmas. But we knew we were Jewish. And eventually there would be five Jewish families there, and we were very good friends with one of them – we called them our aunt and uncle. Then when we moved to Bayside, our whole world was Jewish. We still didn’t go to temple, but we had Seders, and an aunt and uncle lived nearby. And my mother would go to synagogue for Yizkor and volunteer for their garage sales.
Where did you go after high school?
I went to Hunter College, which was on Park Avenue, across from the Russian embassy, and I remember I was at college the day that Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium at the United Nations, which was nearby.
And my parents paid $48 a year for my tuition and books, but I lived at home, so I had to take a bus and three trains to get there. It was a Liberal Arts college, so I couldn’t major in education, but I majored in Sociology and minored in Early Childhood Education. And I did become very active there. I joined a Jewish sorority, Iota Alpha Pi, and I ended up as President, and then Pledge Mother.
Did you know Marty by this time?
I met Marty in my junior year. He was at NYU, getting his degree in marketing. And he had a frat brother, they were both Sammys, who was going out with a friend of mine. And he gave Marty the name and number for me and another friend of mine, also named Sheila. And he called me first, because I lived closer.
Were you married during college?
We got married soon after I finished college. Though his mother did not approve for some reason, she and I never really did have a relationship. But we were married in a big catering hall on Long Island – I think it’s still there – where they can hold maybe ten weddings or bar mitzvahs at a time, and they are all in separate halls. They even provided the Rabbi.
Did you meet with the Rabbi, before or after the wedding?
Where did you go from there?
We moved to an apartment in Bayside. I was already teaching 2nd grade in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Then from there I taught 1st grade in South Jamaica, in Queens, for another 6 ½ years. Both were inner city programs, but very good experiences. Eventually we bought a house in New Jersey, and then Bari came into the family. Marty was working during those years, first in a sporting goods store, then for jobs that took us to Pennsylvania for a while, and eventually for a job as a Sales Manager, and that relocated us to Minnesota in 1977.
What did you think about moving to Minnesota?
It wasn’t highest on my list. But we had neighbors in Pennsylvania that had lived here and so we learned about it from them. What are you going to do? Your husband gets relocated so we moved to Apple Valley. The first week here, we arrived on a Sunday, our furniture came on Monday, Wednesday I registered the kids for school, and Thursday the school was closed because it was a 70 below wind-chill. And I said, “I’m leaving!”
Did you become part of the Jewish community at that point?
Apple Valley wasn’t a Jewish neighborhood, but I knew the kids were going to have to learn who they were. And it was around that time that I met Toba. (Editors note: see prior Humans re Toba). I had been looking in a local paper that listed all the neighborhood churches, and one of them was for a Minnesota Valley Jewish Community Association. Toba’s name was listed along with someone named Marcia. I called Marcia first, because that’s my sister’s name, but I couldn’t get a hold of her so I called Toba, and we’ve been friends ever since. That group included about a half dozen families, mostly from south of the river, and we would get together for programs once a month, a Lubavitcher Rabbi would come out, and parents would teach Sunday school at the bowling alley. And we had Passover at the Catholic church, and Friday night services at the school. The families all became, and have stayed, close – we considered each other as aunts and uncles, and all the kids as cousins. And we’re now seeing the next generation. In fact Toba’s grandson found out that we weren’t actually related about the time of his Bar Mitzvah, and he was really upset.
How did you end up at Mount Zion?
We decided that the kids really needed to know what a real rabbi and real temple was, so we joined Mount Zion because of Toba. She was already a member, and the timing was good.
What was your experience like at Mount Zion?
It was very hard at first. It was not welcoming at all. We didn’t know anyone. It was hard breaking in, though eventually we did, through the kids’ activities, and waiting for them at school every Tuesday and Thursday night. And over the years I became very active with Sisterhood, and eventually even worked in the temple office.
I remember that, it was about that time you had some health concerns. How did that come about?
I was at temple working, and all of a sudden the computer screen started to look very blurry. This was in April, and that previous December I had had cataract surgery, so I thought it might just be that. So I went to the eye doctor and he could tell immediately that it wasn’t my eyes so he sent me to my regular doctor. When I saw him, he immediately had me take an MRI, and he said, “You had a stroke.” And I said “No I didn’t.” But he had Marty come get me, and put me on medication that helped. And sometime later, I was going back for a checkup, and Bari came to pick me up. I was supposed to be downstairs, but I was upstairs. And I just kept repeating myself over and over. That was stroke number two. There were three strokes. I don’t know when the third one was. But eventually I went to Mayo Clinic and was in the hospital for 12 days as they ran every test they could but still have no idea why I had the strokes. Though I’ve been fine for seven years now.
And I remember that Rabbi Adler visited and gave me one of the scarfs that are knitted by a group of women at Mount Zion. I think Betsy is part of that group. And I still wear that scarf when I want to be warm.
Let’s wrap up with my patented random round if we can. Do you have any hobbies or collections?
We play Mah Jongg every Monday. I used to watch the women play when we lived in New York.
And I put together 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, usually with Susan Levey when she can make it. I can do one by myself in about two days, but if I get too caught up, Marty doesn’t get dinner that day.
And I collect elephants, with their trunks up. A friend blasted me once for being a Republican, but I’m not. I just like elephants – they are considered good luck. And how many times do you see collections of donkeys?
Last question, did you have any pets growing up?
Pal, my dog Pal. Pal took care of me. When we lived in Pine Bush it was a very small town, and not the atmosphere that we have today. So when my mother would be working in the store, she would often leave me in the baby carriage outside, and she would say “Pal, watch Sheila.” And if anybody came near that carriage he would bark until my mother came out. He was a German Shepard. He took care of me. But Pal died when I was in about the second grade.
It’s the only time I ever saw my father cry.