“I feel lucky to have arrived at this age.”
Milly speaks softly and you lean in to catch every word.
Even at 95, a conversation about the full life she has led would be shortsighted. The fullness of Milly’s life is very much in the present tense. Changes and modifications have been made along the way, of course, just as they do for everyone traveling through the life span.
Even before being formally introduced to Milly Guberman Kravetz, those familiar with Boston’s premier Jewish-sponsored service organizations are likely to know her name. Either as a staff member or as a trustee, she has played a role in many of the enduring entities that have offered support to multitudes.
As a young woman, Milly held on to her goals – to pursue social work in community settings – and passed up educational opportunities until she secured the program she wanted – a degree from Columbia University School of Social Work. It was the gateway to an exciting professional path, one that she is likely to shrug off as the luck of the draw. It doesn’t take long, however, to recognize what employers noted years ago: her unwavering commitment to her values and her tenacity to achieve her goals.
Milly lights up as she describes her marriage to Josh Guberman in 1946. It was a marriage so harmonious that Milly later realized that she had assumed it mirrored all others.
In 1947, when Milly completed her Masters in Social Work, and Josh graduated Harvard Law School, they celebrated in a style that would become very popular 30 years later. They threw their meager possessions in the car and took off for an extended road trip across the country. They then returned to Boston where Josh began his law career and their three children were raised.
Milly was happy to put her career on pause while her children were young. She wanted to witness her children’s first steps rather than hear about it secondhand from a sitter. At the time, this was the decision made by most of her contemporaries.
Unexpectedly, however, an interesting part-time position emerged: an opportunity to develop Golden Age groups through the Jewish Centers Association (later to become the Jewish Community Center). The job offered enormous flexibility. Much of the work could be done at home, and when she needed to be onsite, she bundled her kids into the car and they came along. To our eyes, this image of juggling work and family is extremely familiar. But, this was the 1950s, well before the women’s movement encouraged young mothers like Milly to achieve their professional goals.
Perhaps the highlight of her professional history was her 23-year tenure at Brandeis. The university was less than 15 years old when Milly came on board in 1961. She grew her career while the entire school blossomed around her. She held key positions at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and later, at Brandeis’ Program in Jewish Communal Service. Milly managed an array of special projects and research grants, and was particularly excited to work closely with students engaged in field placements that were central to their degree programs. Brandeis opened a door for Milly to many lifelong friendships.
Milly credits her ability to stay in the workforce to her spouse who was similarly attuned to a wider vision for women.
“It helped that I had a wonderfully supportive husband. Josh always respected the work that I did.”
The Guberman family had an enviable life. They moved into the home in Newton where Milly continues to reside. Their kids attended excellent nearby schools, enjoyed wonderful neighborhood friends, and eventually, moved on to college to pursue their own journeys. The house was the site of many happy gatherings, including the backyard wedding of Milly and Josh’s daughter.
In 1976, the smooth sailing that defined Milly’s life was upended. Following a brief, poorly diagnosed illness, Josh died. Milly was a widow at age 53.
A friend who was also widowed told me that things will get easier in time. It’s not that it got easier. I just learned to adapt. I wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. It took a lot of energy to get up again, but I needed to. I had to go on living. The fact that I had a job to go to was enormously helpful.”
Milly did move forward and, several years later, once again found love. While plans for her older son’s wedding were underway. Milly met her future daughter-in-law’s father. She and Nate Kravetz, a widower, had much in common. Their own wedding took place one year after their children’s. The couple enjoyed 29 years together before his death. Once again, in 2011, Milly was widowed.
Milly feels fortunate that many wonderful family and friends continue to be in her life. If she isn’t flying to see family in Israel, Chicago or Washington D.C., she is likely to be hosting a relative for an extended stay.
She frequently spends time with younger people, in addition to her children and their spouses, and her 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She is delighted to have formed close relationships with the children of dear friends who have since passed. The continuity of these connections is mutually appreciated.
Milly has also happily established relationships with a number of former students from her years at Brandeis. At that time, they had a cordial student/teacher connection. These days, that differential, as well as the age gap between them, is inconsequential. Milly is more than a path to the past for these young people. She is very up on current books, movies, world events, and politics. A life-long Socialist, Milly was an avid Bernie supporter during the 2016 presidential primaries.
There are certainly adjustments that Milly has had to make through the years, and she expects there will be more down the road. They are not always easy to accept, but rather than see them as impenetrable barriers, they are challenges in need of solutions.
Recently, Milly made the life-changing decision to give up her car. She had been involved in a minor car accident. While thankfully no one was injured, she was overcome with residual uneasiness. This newly acquired level of angst was short-circuiting her confidence when she sat behind the wheel.
Giving up the car was the correct decision, but it was a grueling one.
“It’s a loss of spontaneity. I’ve given myself permission to feel bereft [that I can no longer just go where I want to go].
It’s been a while since she arrived at this conclusion and she continues to piece options together. Some of the obvious ones have turned out to be unavailable. While she is infinitely grateful that she doesn’t have problems walking, she is not eligible for The Ride, the Greater Boston transportation system that serves seniors who require assistance. While her community does offer taxicab vouchers to residents age 62 and older, they can be used only for specific destinations within city limits.
Friends and family have been available for rides, but Milly wants to keep these to a minimum. Luckily, at 95, she is technologically savvy, so arranging services like Uber and Lyft is an option available to her.
“My kids would probably describe me as ‘stubborn’, and they mean that as a compliment I trust. I push myself to stay as independent as possible, but I am sensible. It’s not that I reject their many offers of help. It’s that I need to keep participating in my life.”
Arthritis has progressively become a source of pain and limitation. Milly approaches it with resolution.
“There are things that I can no longer do, but that’s where adapting and adjusting and resilience matter.
These days, I love to read and I exercise weekly at the JCC. I enjoy cooking new recipes and making Friday night dinner. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and people enjoy it. I even continue to cut out recipes…and why shouldn’t I!”
When describing the need to adapt, Milly shared this gem.
“When [arthritis in]] my fingers made it too difficult to put on my favorite earrings, I put them aside. Now, I wear another pair.”