by Amy Lefkof
During World War II, a bathtub saved Alan Goldberg’s life. Goldberg served in the infantry — an eighteen-year-old private first class in the 13th Armored Division, 46th Tank Battalion. A bathtub was welded onto the back of his tank when General Patton visited Goldberg’s battalion as they were preparing to cross a bridge somewhere near Simbach, Germany. Patton refused to let Goldberg’s tub-tank go first. When the soldiers were unable to remove the welded bathtub from the tank, the tub-tank moved to third in line. The bridge collapsed under the weight of the first two armored tanks.
While in Germany, Goldberg went to a USO show held for the 13th Armored Division. A woman in a two-piece swimsuit danced on a makeshift stage —a raised wooden platform in the back of an army truck. Goldberg shouted to the men in his Company, “That’s my cousin Josephine from Brookline, Massachusetts!” After the show, Goldberg, trailed by the hundred or so men in his Company, went “backstage,” took off his helmet and asked his cousin, “Jo, do you remember Alan Goldberg from Brookline?” According to Goldberg, his cousin broke down crying and told the rest of the Company, who had lined up to meet her, to go on home and leave her alone with her cousin Alan. In a letter to her mom dated May 12, 1945, Josephine Axelrod described her encounter with Goldberg: “I threw my arms around him and kissed him and he was so cute and excited and pleased that he got all choked up.” After commenting on how “this poor kid” was too young to endure army life, she added, “I kissed him goodbye and got lots of lipstick on his cheek and told him to be sure and leave it on till all his buddies saw it.” These and other Goldberg WWII antics are featured in Jewish American Soldiers: Stories from WWII, a documentary that tells the stories of Charlotte-area Jewish American World War II veterans.
After the war, Goldberg returned to the Boston area. Brandeis University was in its infancy and a birthday party was given for Alan’s uncle who was a University founder. The student selected to give a speech in honor of Alan’s uncle was a young woman named Ruth Abrams. Goldberg’s mother was in the audience and was so impressed with Ruth that she asked Ruth for her phone number. Goldberg’s mother gave him Ruth’s phone number and said, “This is the girl you should marry.” With what Goldberg concedes was the worst pick-up line of all times, he dutifully called the number and said to Ruth, “My mother said that I should call you.” Asked whether it was love at first sight, Goldberg says yes. Ruth says by the third date. They both say that sixty-four years later they’re still in love.
For seven years, Goldberg has served as photographer for Shalom Park Freedom School, a six-week summer literacy-based program for economically disadvantaged children, mostly Hispanic and African American. Each summer Goldberg braves sweltering southern heat to document between 50 and 80 children at barbecues, chess boards, swimming pools, and manure-laden horse pastures.
These days Goldberg looks a bit frail as he enters the Levine Jewish Community Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. As he makes his way through the door carrying a large gym bag his hands shake. “Parkinson’s,” he says to anyone who asks, and then adds with characteristic gusto: “I just came from a photography class and now I’m on my way to a boxing class — not bad for a 92-year-old.” Goldberg’s boxing class is run by JCC staff trained in the Rock Steady Boxing method that gives people with Parkinson’s disease hope by improving their quality of life through a non-contact boxing-based fitness curriculum. In this boxing ring, Parkinson’s disease is the opponent. Alan’s wife, Ruth, who parks their car after dropping him off at the curb in front of the JCC, says that boxing keeps Alan moving. She is on her way to join him.
Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018