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Miriam Rayman Solomon

Communal Leader
1919 – 2011
Rayman siblings c.1928
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Shirley, Miriam and David Rayman c.1928. Courtesy Ray Solomon.

Miriam Solomon was a native of Helena, Arkansas. Except during and immediately after college, she and her husband, lawyer David Solomon, lived their entire lives in the small town on the Mississippi River. A graduate of Helena High school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Washington University in Saint Louis in 1940. She served as head of occupational therapy at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago from 1940 until her marriage in 1942.The Solomons were cornerstones of the Helena community, especially of its one Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth El.

by Rayman Solomon

Our mother was a woman of lists.  In her distinctive beautiful 6 point rounded script she would constantly create lists… When we three sons or the grandchildren came home, the lists included the issues she wanted to talk to us about: from the mundane to the most philosophical.  Every trip included an invitation to Mother& Daddy’s room for an intense personal conversation in which Mother thoroughly discussed each item until she was satisfied and then checked them off —one by one.  You needn’t have a psychology degree to understand that lists were Mother’s means of being in total control of her environment: nothing was to be left to chance, nothing was to be overlooked or forgotten, and every aspect of an issue was completely to be explored until she was convinced that you understood her position or that she understood yours.

Miriam and David Solomon wedding day, 1942
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Miriam and David Solomon wedding day, 1942. Courtesy Ray Solomon.

As is appropriate for Mother we wanted to list several attributes that best describe her. Certainly no list could completely capture her long life; more than one friend has accurately described her in condolence messages as a force of nature.

To begin there was her intellect.  Mother had an insightful and penetrating mind. She loved to explore ideas and was a passionate reader of books. She was in a book club even in her final years and would read four or five books a week. She proudly collected many shelves of reference books in which she could investigate questions about Jewish religious practices or American historical glass pieces or major historical events. She insisted on knowing and understanding and mastering all that was in her world. 

Second was mother’s sense of beauty and design and style. She had unequalled taste, and as in all things there was no gray—things were either beautiful or not.  It started with her garden … no yard was more magnificently planned or maintained.  It extended to her collecting paintings with Daddy, and the many artistic and cultural objects they brought back from their extensive travels.  And then there was her love of collecting American glass, and napkin rings.  But mother was not an acquisitive person.  In fact most things she collected she gave away: to her family or to friends. For her the joy was in finding the beautiful object or the culturally significant piece, and then researching its history, establishing its significance, and explaining all to the recipients of the gifts so they could also share in her pleasure.

Third was our mother’s concern for her community—both civic and religious.  She cared deeply that things that were good should be preserved, and things that were not right should be improved. She worked hard her entire adult life to keep Temple Beth El going. As the Congregation dwindled she made certain the building was maintained, when it needed to be closed she insured that it was done with dignity, and then she opened her home on Friday nights and holidays for services to be conducted.

She struggled all of her adult life to make Helena better.  Her most active civic role was as a founding board member of the East Arkansas Regional Mental Health Center. Mother did care deeply about its mission, but, I believe, she also saw its importance in the 1970s as a new organization that had a chance to be a new model for Helena.  It could—and did— succeed in providing help to all citizens of Helena, but it was also governed and run by a truly racially and economically mixed group of citizens.

Fourth, Mother was a mentor.  Her intelligence and strong sense of right and wrong enabled her to see clearly what needed to be done and how to do it. As she aged she eagerly encouraged and guided young men and women on paths of personal and professional growth.  Her generosity was boundless; she provided resources or advice, but the recipient had to be willing to listen and follow through. Nothing disappointed her more than someone settling for less than they could do.

Fifth, Mother was the center of our family and the family was the center of her life. Mother enjoyed a good story and was also a good story teller and taught us about the Raymans and the Solomons through those stories.

 My parents were married a remarkable 69 years.  Their partnership included everything except the practice of law, and even then Mother was more than willing to share her views on the rightness or wrongness of my father’s legal arguments. When we were young and they needed to decide something—especially if it was something that Mother wanted to do and my father was reluctant about—they would take a walk.

When the three of us were growing up, Thursday night was values education night. Mother had a 30-year Thursday afternoon bridge game that not only included cards, but gossip about what teenagers and young adults had gotten into trouble. That night at dinner it became the topic of conversation which always included a clear moral lesson—from not smoking to the value of education. 

Mother took pride in our education and our careers and in the careers of her new daughters as we married. But it was the grandchildren who were her greatest love—and her greatest project. She was not a conventional grandmother—she insisted before the oldest were born on being called “M” by the grandchildren, and babysitting infants was not her love. But as they grew older they were all hers. She loved their visits when she could talk to them about their present, and their future, offering advice and guidance. They did not disappoint and she was thrilled by reports of their progress and development.

One cannot talk about our mother’s lists without talking about that other list she kept.  Family and friends could move on and off it frequently.  However, Mother was always straightforward and willing to let you know why you were on it and what was needed to get off it. Most often it was not that an apology was owed to her, rather it was something that an individual had done to another person that needed to be rectified. Or it was they had settled for less than what they could do.

Solomon family, Lake Como, 2001
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Solomon family, Lake Como, 2001. Courtesy Ray Solomon.

Most often people who have stopped by have said to us “I will really miss your mother.”  They hesitate and say “Helena will really miss your mother.”  There is no doubt that each family member so profoundly feels that same sense of loss. However, there can be no doubt that Mother lives on in the lives of her sons and grandchildren and nieces and nephews, who are gathered here, as she has immutably shaped who we are, the values we hold dear, and the stories we will tell to our children and our children’s children.

 

Rayman Solomon is Dean and Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law – Camden. He is President of the Board of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, MS.

 

August 2011
“We never should settle for less than we can do,”
you said. You stared at me, hard, your regal cane
knocking on hard wood.
I stared back, nodding, not wanting to disappoint, trying
to read the elegant wrinkles that surrounded your face.
Your house still smells like after-shave and sugar cookies,
a museum of needlepoint memories and works of art that we chose in advance
in case you die.
But I don’t think death scared you; your mind was ninety-two years young.
Your body was fragile, but you carried yourself with confidence and grace.
You didn’t fret over broken bones or Band-Aids like most grandmothers,
we didn’t even call you grandma—we called you “M.”
M: for Miriam, Memory, Majestic, Mystery, Monet, Modigliani, More, More More—
You traveled far and wide, reading, thinking, collecting, to bring back and share with
Helena, Arkansas, where your ancestors have lived for over one-hundred years.
Every Friday night you kindled the Sabbath Lights, breaking up the Delta Darkness.
Lights of tradition, hope, and remembrance.
I saw you cry once, you looked small.
When you noticed me watching, your eyebrows furrowed, and you said:
“We never should settle for less than we can do.”
and That was That.
       
Claire Solomon, Miriam Solomon’s granddaughter, is an Education Fellow at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life based in Jackson, MS. She wrote most of this poem for a class her junior year of college and didn’t return to it until after her grandmother died. She writes, “I know, now more than ever, that she would simply want us to keep going. She would lovingly demand us all to keep the flame of Judaism and tradition alive, to cherish our families, and to never settle for less than we can do.”

 

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember - Miriam Rayman Solomon, 1919 - 2011." (Viewed on April 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/solomon-miriam>.