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Julia Waldbaum

1897 – 1996

by Naomi Geschwind

Julia Waldbaum was a philanthropist and businesswoman. In every context, whether personal, professional, or philanthropic, she had a gift for making each individual with whom she came in contact feel special.

She was born in Manhattan on July 4, 1897, to Harry and Anna Leffel. She was the second of three daughters and the third of six children. She grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

At twenty-one, she married Israel (Izzy) Waldbaum, an Austrian immigrant seven years her senior who owned the local butter and egg store. The marriage, which produced three children—Shirley, Phyllis, and Ira—lasted until Israel’s death at age fifty-five in 1947.

By that time, the family had a chain of seven stores, and the “personal touch,” which Julia Waldbaum brought to every aspect of life, including the marketing of groceries, was evident. The expanding chain of stores had over four hundred products bearing its private label by the 1960s, and Waldbaum’s picture—with recipes she tested at home—appeared on virtually all those labels except, as she once joked to a reporter, “the dog food and the bathroom tissue.”

In 1986, gross revenues of $1.37 billion a year from 140 stores in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts made the chain an attractive acquisition for the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which purchased most of the family stock. Even after transferring control, however, Waldbaum still made some thirty surprise visits to Waldbaum’s stores every month. She was concerned with quality, cleanliness, and service, and her pet peeves included bruised fruit and dusty shelves. Checkout clerks who could not be bothered to thank patrons for their business particularly drew her ire.

That attention to detail led Waldbaum to insist upon keeping her home telephone number in the directory for years after her family wanted her to get an unlisted number. She explained that customers should be able to reach her so that they would not think that “Mrs. Waldbaum [was] an imaginary person like Betty Crocker.”

Although raised in an Orthodox household, Waldbaum became a Reform Jew in later life. Her profound commitment to the Jewish principle of tzedaka [righteous works] was expressed both through personal and monetary participation in a vast and ecumenical array of philanthropies as diverse as foster homes and opera companies. She was also the honoree at numerous fund-raising dinners given by charities ranging from the Anti-Defamation League to Brooklyn’s Catholic Charities. On those occasions, Waldbaum greeted every subscriber personally and attendance often broke records.

Despite a calendar crowded with work and philanthropic obligations, Julia Waldbaum always made time for her family. She shared with a son-in-law the upbringing of three of her grandchildren after the untimely death of her daughter Phyllis left them motherless. Frequent Friday dinners at Waldbaum’s home were a time for all the extended family to gather and recount the events of the week.

In her ninety-ninth year, Julia Waldbaum died in her sleep on September 30, 1996, at her home in Queens, New York City. She was survived by two siblings, two children, ten grandchildren and twenty-four great-grandchildren.

Bibliography

Malinsky, Randie [granddaughter]. Telephone interview by author, 1996; Obituary. NYTimes, October 3, 1996; Waldbaum, Nancy [granddaughter]. Telephone interview by author, 1996.

11 Comments

I was in 11th grade in 1979 when they built a new Waldbaum's store in Plainview (now it's a Fairway). I stood on-line with the rest of my high school trying to get my first job. I was pretty lucky and became a cashier at Waldbaums. We were trained for a week or two before the store opened (new bar scanners and all). We were taught to be polite to each customer and thank them for coming to Waldbaums. One afternoon (in the midst of a busy day), I heard some whispering from the manager and assistant manager that Julia was in the store. I don't remember what she bought but she checked out at the line right next to mine. I remember her standing right next to me. She smiled, did not say too much and I think she bagged her own stuff. I was around 16 then and thought she looked really old- I guess she was in her early 80's!

Anyway, that was my memory of Julia Waldbaum's visit. And now I have to go to Waldbaum's to pick up some milk!

My grandmother was Sarah Waldbaum married to Wally from Manchester, England. Part of family moved over to the USA in late 1930s. Other parts of family were the Jacksons from Prestwich area of England. I am coming over to New York in April and would love to have contact with anyone who has any information about my family. Regards, Warren Levein

Not only was Julia Waldbaum a real person, she shopped in our local Waldbaum's on Nostrand Ave and her grandson, Robert was in my high school class.

It was really fun to watch her go through the check out line and then walk over to the manager's cage...maybe to get a refund? We didn't know, but my mother and I always thought that was what she was doing. I do believe she was the only shopper who had a car and driver waiting for her outside, but she was an important member of the Midwood neighborhood community and still there when we left in 1972.

My husband has just branded his new line of nutritional supplements with an illustration of his portrait, and it reminded that Mrs. Waldbaum was probably the first to do it....

Julia Waldbaum & Waldbaums in general was a huge part of my family's life growing up in Brooklyn in te 60's & 70's. My Mom worked for Waldbaums in Sheepshead Bay and Julia would frequently drop by this store. Every year Waldbaums would throw a huge party at the warehouse on Long Island for the workers and their families. These events were fantastic There was food, entertainment, games. and interaction with the Waldbaum family. Julia was always nice to us and made sure we had a great time. She remembered all of us by name and always had a nice word.

I have nothing but fond memories of Julia and Waldbaums in general. Thanks for putting this on the internet.

Paul

Thank you for adding your memories to this page.

I now live in Ohio....I have many fond childhood memories of running to grab a number from the deli department for my mother. I always wondered if Julia Waldbaum was a real person and now you have answered it. Wonderful store.

PS Since she had lived 99 years, Shouldn't it be she died in her 100th year? When you are born you are in your first year of life....even though you are not "1".

I'm have been searching for Mrs. Waldbaum's Irish Soda Recipe and unable to find it. Would very much appreciate any suggestions as to where I might find it. I was told to go to the Waldbaum's site and look under recipes but the only one there says Eileen's Soda bread.

Sorry to bother you but figured it was worth a shot....thank you and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Karen

I've had this recipe for many years. It has a picture of Mrs Waldbaum on it. The caption says "A recipe suggestion from Julia Waldbaum." Delicious.

3 1/4 cups of flour, sifted 1/4 cup of sugar 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 cup margarine 1 1/3 cup buttermilk 1/3 cup of raisins

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.Add buttermilk & raisins; stir only until moisture is absorbed. Turn out on lightly floured board and knead until smooth and velvety, about 1 minute. Shape dough into a round loaf; place in a greased pan. With a knife cut a cross in the top and bake in a 350 oven about 1 hour or until loaf is brown and shrinks from sides of pan. Makes one bread. That's it,right from Julia. Enjoy.

My name is Keritha J. Charles, I am 37 years old. I first met Mrs. Julia Waldbaums at age 15, in 1986 and had made a few trips there after, to see her and my Mom. I remembered taking the 44 bus to her home on 2710 Ave J or K. I think it was around Ave J. in Brooklyn, NY off Nostrand Ave area. I was visiting my mother, Ms. Erene D. Charles, who was Mrs. Waldbaums caretaker/housekeeper for many years. I was excited to meet my Mom's boss, Mrs. Waldbaums, who shared the same birthday as me. July 4. Mrs. Waldbaums was more than a boss, to my Mom, she was a wonderful mother, and businessperson, and she was very professional and was very caring. She was a woman of wisdom and Magnitude. I can remember, my Mom brings me a very large dictionary, which she told me that Mrs. Waldbaums had sent to me. I was very happy to received it and have cherish that dictionary up to today. As I said, Mrs. waldbaums was a woman of great magnitude and wisdom; she had spoken highly of her son Ira and all of her Grandchildren. Her comment to me was that I could do whatever I wanted to do in life, if I put my mind to it.

Keritha, is your mom still alive? I knew her. I am a cousin of Julia's.

JWA has forwarded your message to Keritha Charles. We hope that she will respond to you directly.

How to cite this page

Geschwind, Naomi. "Julia Waldbaum." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/waldbaum-julia>.

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