Two months before my mother died, her doctor stopped the chemotherapy and she rallied. In true Enid Shapiro style, my mom took the opportunity to attend an evening board meeting of The Right Question Institute (RQI), asking her caregiver/driver to stop on the way so she could pick up cheese and crackers to bring to the meeting. She cherished her place on the board, having joined it in her mid-80s and seeing the organization as an opportunity to promote one of her most valued ideals—democracy. RQI valued her as well, and devoted the last day of their annual conference in July 2017 to the memory of Enid Shapiro by sharing with the participants their process for promoting democracy.
Referred to by Rabbi Andrew Vogel as “the grande dame of Boston’s Jewish Community” Enid A Shapiro was a social worker, philanthropist, and volunteer who worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. She grew up in poverty, her father often hospitalized for a variety of illnesses on account of being gassed in World War I; her mother raised Enid and her brother, Alan, alone, working at times as a companion to support the family. Enid wanted to become a nurse but her mother forbade it. “Good Jewish girls do not become nurses,” she was told.
Enid graduated Brookline High School at sixteen and Boston University at nineteen, majoring in journalism. At a political event (most likely Workman’s Circle) she met my dad, Melvin Shapiro, her husband of 60 years. At the time she was working for a local paper but after I, her third and youngest child, was securely in primary school she went back to school and earned her Master’s degree in social work. One of few working mothers in our small suburban community, she was a trailblazer in so many ways.
As Judy Rakowsky wrote in an obituary for Social Work Magazine “Enid Shapiro was a social worker like Beverly Sills was a singer. She took her practice to profound heights, resettling Russian immigrants, finding the best setting for elderly patients, counseling converts to Judaism and parents of LGBT children with the empathy most people reserve for friends. And she led social justice, interreligious relations and breast cancer support efforts with passion and humility.”
My mom was known by many as “the great connector.” She was endlessly interested in people and would find ways to connect people around the globe. She remembered their birthdays, their children’s birthdays, sent cards and wrote notes to keep in touch. But, most importantly, she introduced people whom she felt such introductions would benefit. On the eve of her death we received a phone call from a couple calling to say they were on their way from the airport. She had met them while traveling in Vietnam a few years before and had offered couple a place to stay on numerous occasions. They had not known of her illness. My mom’s friend, Jane Matlaw, in “true Enid Shapiro style” offered her home to the the Portland, Oregon couple.
It is hard to say what my mom was most proud of. She was involved in social justice efforts, Muslim-Jewish relations and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel, Boston Keshet, Hadassah, Jewish Community Relations Council, Kit Clark Senior Services, The Abraham Fund, Temple Sinai and its rainbow committee, The Coolidge Corner Theater, The Brookline Literacy Project, Hebrew College, the Boston Opera Company, the Right Question Institute, Friendship Works, the Jewish Women’s Archive, to name a few. In 2011 with the help of Jane Matlaw, she came up with her own 85th birthday idea to create the Enid Shapiro Endowed Fund for Social Work Exchange with Rambam Hospital in Haifa. This was one of her proudest accomplishments and on a couple of occasions while visiting I got to meet the Israeli exchange students because they stayed with her. She was a corporator for Simmons College School of Social Work where she established an Innovation and Learning Fund. Each organization she took seriously and helped raise funds and support to insure the success of their work.
Late in her life, my mom decided, as her own mother had, to take up the study of Hebrew and scripture. She was proudly bat-mitzvahed in 2009. Three days before her death we had to notify her study group that they could not meet at her house. My mother had given her dining room over to countless organizations and could be found on a Friday afternoon with her Hebrew teacher studying with him at her dining room table or on Mondays surrounded by her Temple study group. She loved Temple Sinai as a family and they provided a community for her that gave her something truly special in her old age (though Enid never seemed to be old).
My mom defied her diagnosis of stage-four breast cancer and lived in spite of the disease for 20 years. Her devotion to breast cancer awareness and prevention, Silent Spring, and other efforts was my model for how to live despite a cancer diagnosis and helped me through my own cancer treatment in 2001.
Enid Shapiro lived tikkun olam. She was an early feminist, a devoted Jew, an unceasing learner, and she made a difference in countless people’s lives through her devotion to repair the world and her commitment to kindness and care that came from a place of profound integrity. Powerful, brave, unceasing in her devotion to social justice, she continues to be a model for many.