Albert Abraham Hersch Reingewirtz of Havertown PA passed away peacefully at home on May 12, 2020 at age 85.
Albert was born in Besançon, France on October 4, 1934, the only son of the late Nachman Reingewirtz and Sarah Hoffnung, who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Albert had only small clouds of memories of his parents, as he was seven and a half years old when he lost both of them in 1942. He was first taken in by his mother’s acquaintances, the Blum family, then later, Capitaine Riom, a Salvation Army captain, who arranged for him to join a Protestant orphanage in a suburb of Besançon under a false identity. After WWII, when Capitaine Riom heard about the inauguration of the reopening of a central Synagogue in Besançon, she persuaded Albert to keep his Jewish identity and took him there. This led him to reunite with his family, an uncle, an aunt, and his cousins in Lyon. Then, he ended up being sent to a Jewish orphanage in Aix-Les-Bains in Savoie in the Alps mountains. The manager of the orphanage, Rabbi Rabin Soël provided stories of the Jewish people, biblical accounts, miracles, Jewish religion to the droves of children who had lost their parents, caring for them with affection and tenderness.
At the age of 15, Albert moved to Israel, wanting to be part of the establishment of the state of Israel. In the fall of 1952, he graduated from Mikveh Israel (Hebrew: מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, lit.'Hope of Israel'), the first Jewish agricultural school near Tel Aviv. Then, Albert decided to become a bee keeper, which continued to be the dream job for him throughout his life. But unfortunately, just before the season for harvesting his first honey, he was called upon for military service. He had to drop everything and became a radio operator in the Israeli army. Albert was sent to a unit deployed in Ein Gedi (literally "spring of the kid (young goat)," an oasis and a nature reserve in Israel, located on the shore of the Dead Sea. Then, he volunteered to move to Eilat, located at the southernmost point of Israel (close to a harsh desert, the Negev). Later on he served as a policeman in Eilat. During his free time, Albert taught himself diving from reading books and became an avid diver. He greatly enjoyed himself and experienced many adventures as a young man in Ein Gedi and Eilat, thriving in the natural environment. When Fritz Perls, a famous psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, visited and stayed in Eilat, Albert became a friend of his and enjoyed playing chess with him. During his time in Eilat, he met many people who became friends including Ami Negbi, Sy Dill, and Lenny Ravich, each of whom Albert reconnected with later in his life, maintaining these friendships through the end of his life.
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Albert married a American Jewish woman, Jeanne Schwartz, immediately after she got pregnant, and he had his first daughter, Sarah, named after his late mother. In 1967, Albert moved to Los Angeles, where Jeanne’s family was living, hoping for his depressed wife to feel better living in her native country. However, his wife’s psychological condition worsened. In 1975, Albert separated from Jeanne on the condition that he would pay all their debts, alimony, and raise three daughters, Sarah, Tamar, and Leah. Albert with sincerity and humor pleaded his own case in family court, and won temporary custody of his three daughters, which at the time was a rare event, a father being granted sole custody. During the ensuing challenging time, Albert attended night school to attain his BA degree in philosophy from Northridge university. Adding to the stress of school, work, and raising his daughters, Albert was fearful of losing his daughters. Thinking they might not have much time to be together, Albert took them all on a roadtrip adventure to Oregon to visit family friends who used to be their neighbors, in their small battered car on a shoestring budget, camping without reservations along the way. The trip became one of their most cherished family memories. Albert was a truly dedicated and loving father.
In Los Angeles, Albert worked as an oil shift man for Mobil Oil before he started helping his father-in-law as a truck driver, delivering candies and tobacco. After the divorce, Albert became a salesman for Sony. His territory included Caltech and J.P.L. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). In 1978, Albert was selling the best available and most innovative dictating equipment on the market. One day, he was asked by Caltech to demonstrate dictating equipment, and sold some to two Nobel laureates, Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman. Realizing who they were post-facto, Albert was a little chagrined to think back on the “presentation” he had delivered to these two eminent physicists about sound recording! They wanted to record a big flock of parrots that stayed most of the time in the groves on campus, with Feynman imitating a chicken by strutting and clucking to test whether the equipment was suited to their purpose!
In Los Angeles, Albert established a lifelong friendship with Donald McKayle, an American modern dancer and choreographer, who is considered to be "among the first black men to break the racial barrier by means of modern dance.” Albert met Donald through Donald’s wife Leah, also a dancer, whom Albert had met and become a close friend of when Albert was still in Israel. Albert’s neighbors Kathy and Les Weiser and their children, became very close family friends of Albert and his daughters throughout his life. Then, Albert moved to San Diego to help a business of his friend. After his youngest daughter Leah graduated from school, Albert decided to return to Israel, something he had always had in the back of his mind. He sold everything in San Diego and moved back to Israel. Shortly after he arrived, he met Nurit Popper, who would become his second wife. Albert did not find the Israel of his youth, was saddened to see the changes that had occurred, he could not find a job there, and he missed his children. So, Albert returned to San Diego with Nurit and her son Nimrod (about 6 years old). However, Nurit was very homesick for Israel, and the father of her son became very ill, so she left Albert to return to Israel without telling him that she would not come back to the US again. Albert learned her decision only six months later, when he asked her when she was coming back. After this, Albert swore off marriage, but that was before he met Eiko!
In San Diego, Albert was struggling to find a job to support himself, and he worked as a taxi driver for a few years and did an apartment maintenance job. Then, through his Palestinian friend Huda Shubeita, he met Sylvia Evans, a professor at UCSD, and she became his best friend for the rest of his life. Albert regarded Sylvia as the sister he never had, and met many people and became friends with them through her, mostly at parties at her house, maintaining longterm true friendship with them, including Loudes Anllo-Vento, Cristina Garcia-Frigola and Victor Borell-Franco, and Carla Rothlin and Sourav Ghosh. Eiko Ogiso was also one of them. Eiko came to the US from Japan in late March 1999 to do her postdoc training at the Scripps Research Institute, and rented a room from Sylvia. Sylvia was leaving for Italy for a month on the day following Eiko’s arrival, so Sylvia asked Albert to take care of her as well as other roommates young international students Judy from Spain, and Giovanna from Italy. Albert and Eiko immediately got along very well, sharing similar passions and interests in science and nature, but they approached each other very carefully, to better understand their cultural differences. These might easily have caused misunderstanding, as Jewish culture is famously argumentative, and a good sense of humor is an essential part of being Jewish, while Japanese culture is extremely averse to argument, and Japanese people rarely tell jokes. Despite what might have been expected to cause cultural clashes, Albert and Eiko found a profound love together, and married. Those who knew them witnessed Eiko blossoming under Albert’s love and care. Albert cherished every moment of their time together, immensely enjoying the great peace and love he had found with Eiko for the last quarter of his life.
In 2004, after 65 years with no information on what had happened to his mother’s side of the family, Albert was finally reunited with a cousin, Izidor Hoffnung, from his mother’s side who lived in Nancy, France. Izidor lost his parents and older sister in the Shoa. Albert remembered that Izidor’s family had visited in 1939, then they lost contact completely. Then, Albert learned for the first time that he had five uncles on his mother’s side who had all died from diabetes. This information scared him, and he changed his attitude toward food completely. Albert started eating healthy food and baked whole grain bread with sesame and flaxseed from his own recipe every week until the very end of his life.
In summer, 2007, Albert and Eiko moved to Philadelphia due to Eiko’s job. Soon after they settled In Philadelphia, Albert read the book called "One Man's Owl" written by Bernd Heinrich, given to Albert by Maurice Papeika, his son-in-law, the husband of Albert’s youngest daughter Leah. Albert was very fascinated with this book, and he sent his comments to the author, Bernd Heinrich. Bernd is a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, and the author of a number of books about nature writing and biology. This set off a very unique and special friendship between Albert and Bernd, who have never met in person, but they shared their passions on birds and insects as well as their painful experience during WWII. Albert read all the books written by Bernd, and Bernd sometimes sent him his unpublished drafts and asked Albert’s opinions. One day in winter, when Albert told Bernd that he saw a beautiful blue jay, but dead, preserved on snow in his backyard, Bernd asked him to mail it to him, because Bernd had never had a chance to draw blue jay before. Bernd is also a watercolor artist of birds and insects. Soon afterward, Albert received a beautiful artwork of the blue jay from Bernd and he displayed it on his wall as his treasure.
Albert also cherished a close friendship with Ira Sharp, who used to be Albert’s primary doctor, but Ira was forced to retire from his practice due to his pancreatic cancer. Albert and Ira maintained close contact for the last several years until the very end of Albert’s life. In May, 2019, on יום השואה (Holocaust Remembrance Day), as always every year with his wife, Ira watched ceremonies in Israel and listened to the stories of survivors, victims and heroes of those terrible years. Late in the day, he heard a story from an elderly woman who had been in France and described her experiences hidden in a Protestant orphanage, Louis Pasteur in Besançon and described a Salvation Army Capitaine Riom, which reminded Ira of something that Albert had told him in the past. A few days later, Ira decided that maybe this was more than coincidence, and wrote to the Israeli TV station, and he received further information on this old lady. After 75 years, remarkably, Albert reconnected with this lady, and was able also, through her, to connect to her younger sister, who had been his playmate in the Protestant orphanage during the time. Thanks to Ira, Albert was able to recapture a little of his lost youth, retrieving fond memories of his “family” from that time, and validating his memory of a German firing squad that was dispersed just prior to shooting a number of villagers already aligned against the wall, by a priest on a bicycle announcing the advent of the Americans.
Albert loved animals including dogs, cats, lizards, squirrels, birds, and fish. Taking pictures of wild birds in lagoons became his passion when he was living in San Diego. He loved listening to music, especially classical jazz. When he was in Los Angeles, he went to live music jazz clubs quite often with his good friend Royale Johnson, a DJ for WUMR (the only all-jazz station in Memphis), who was a collector of all jazz records from every era, every performer, and was the proud repository and guardian of jazz history. Albert had autographs of his favorite jazz players, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie. Albert also loved plants and flowers. Planting seeds and making a new plant from a cutting was one of his favorite pastimes. He then loved to share his plants with his friends. All his friends are now connected with exotic plants and flowers from Albert. After Albert moved to Philadelphia, he continued his experiments growing fruit plants from seeds, such as mango, persimmon, and avocado. Now, two beautiful hazelnut (filbert) trees are growing in their backyard, which Albert started from nuts he bought at an Asian supermarket for snacks. Albert had a dream of one day seeing his fellow squirrels and chipmunks enjoying nuts from his trees in their backyard.
Albert always said “Life is short.” He did not want to waste his precious time on nonsense. In spite of having such a painful and difficult early life experience, he remained sane, positive, and joyful. Always looking at the brighter side of life, with great humor. Albert lived a full and amazing life. His mind was always clear and playful, full of mischief, like a young boy. Albert was a wonderful story teller of his great adventures and funny experiences, and he was always very popular at parties. He was selfless and eager to help friends anytime. He was a very warm caring person with a wonderful sense of humor. He loved to talk to strangers anywhere he went. He naturally achieved and kept such a beautiful smiling face for his entire life. His smile was always special like the sun, giving warmth and happiness to people around him.
About a year ago, Albert promised Eiko to become Yokai to protect her after he died. Yokai literally translated means “ghosts” in Japanese, but has a much broader meaning and imaginative scope. Yokai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Also, Yokai usually possess animal faces and features, yet other parts appear mostly human. So, Albert chose to have a chipmunk face. When there are chipmunks scampering about, Albert is with us in spirit!
We all miss him dearly.
He is survived by his wife, Eiko Nakamaru-Ogiso Reingewirtz, his bird, Apio Greenbird, his three daughters, Sarah Reingewirtz, Tamar Reingewirtz, and Leah Reingewirtz, three grandsons, Julian, Fenn, and Asher, and his cousin Aaron Reingewirtz who survived a concentration camp in Auschwitz, and many relatives and their children in Israel and France.