[Regular contributor Steve Vertlieb suffered a family loss and wanted to share his memories.]
By Steve Vertlieb: Mike (Michael) Raditz was one of the more colorful characters in the proverbial bark of my family tree. He was my first cousin, the son of my aunt Ann who was my dad’s sister. Ann married a wonderful artist by the name of Mark Raditz, and they had three children…Audrey (who had a beautiful soprano voice, and sang with Eugene Ormandy as a young girl), Eddie (who became a successful concert violinist) and Michael. Michael was the baby of the family, and closer (although a few years older than I) to my own age. As children, Mike would play with my cousins Marsha, Helene, Myra, and I. We were somewhat mischievous in those formative years of the early to mid nineteen fifties. We’d often congregate at my Zayda’s (grandfather) house in the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion in Philadelphia. When our parents attended Shul during the Orthodox High Holidays at synagogue B’nai Menasha during Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, Michael, Marsha, Helene, Myra, and I would beg for ice cream in my Zayda’s (Samuel Vertlieb) store, adjoining the family home.
As we grew up and, presumably, matured I began to lose touch with Michael. My parents never owned a car while I was growing up, and so we would have to take a bus whenever we would go out…except for the times when there was a family gathering. It was then that my Uncle Lee and Aunt Jesse (Marsha’s mom and dad) would pick us up, and drive us to family events and gatherings. Mike was, after all, a few years older than myself and, as he should, began gravitating to friends closer to his own age.
Mike loved opera, as I recall, and was always talking about the music and the vocalists whose voices would serenade and sweetly resonate through the walls of his home. He was also a huge baseball fan. Michael never married, but had lots of friends with interests similar to his own. In later years, as a growing sense of family and my own roots seemed to envelop me following my divorce from my wife in 1996, I began to reach out to what remained of my family. We’d schedule monthly family lunches, usually on a Saturday afternoon, and congregate at The Olive Garden on Roosevelt Boulevard. Michael would join Marsha, Helene, my brother Erwin (when visiting from Los Angeles), Shelly and I for a loving laugh fest in which Michael would happily regale us with with stories of our parents, and of their emigration from White Russia to Canada and, eventually, to Philadelphia, as well as their physical and emotional travails along the passage of time and history.
Mike was, you see, the keeper of the Vertlieb and Raditz family heritage, and was the patriarch of the second generation. He could talk for hours about each of our parents … their joys, their sorrows, and of the family secrets which had seemingly become lost to posterity. For my beloved mom’s 100th birthday party and dinner, Mike took some wonderful videos which, although somewhat dark due to the muted lighting of the restaurant, remain ever more precious to me today. Michael was eccentric, to be sure, but he was also among the most colorful characters whom it was ever my pleasure to know and call friend.
I last shared an evening with Mike about a year ago in December, 2017 when, at my invitation, he joined my brother Erwin and I for a delightful dinner at a quaint Japanese restaurant across the street from my apartment. We listened and laughed as Mike once again regaled us with loving stories of our families history, and of the sacred Jewish heritage paving the path for our own evolution, backgrounds, and birth.
I received a telephone call from my cousin Marsha last evening … the first evening of the new year … informing me that Michael had passed away of a heart attack nearly a year earlier in February, 2018. Our families had sadly drifted apart once more, as families will, and no one had made the effort to inform our dwindling numbers that Michael had passed. Marsha had, herself, inadvertently stumbled across the news only yesterday when accessing Mike’s Facebook page to wish him a Happy Birthday. Mike had succumbed, apparently, merely two months after spending a wonderful evening of dinner and conversation with Erwin and I. I remain deeply affected and saddened by the loss of this marvelous, deliciously colorful soul whose life had so joyously intersected my own. I love you, Mike. Rest well, my Cousin. Rest well, my friend. God willing, we shall meet again in a more ethereal reality while a younger soul, perhaps, will recount the stories of our own lives and memorable adventures on Earth, and perpetuate our family’s loving memory.