Retirement works for Lois and Barry Einhorn

February 13, 2020

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Barry and Lois Einhorn, 12 pm at The Talbot’s New Year’s Eve Celebration.

Spending two hours and 36 minutes interviewing community activists Lois and Barry Einhorn about ‘retirement’ at The Talbot on Granby isn’t just enlightening and educational, it is like watching two improv masters.

Preparing for my first meeting with two equally compelling forces of nature was daunting. Then, curiosity emerged and trumped my fear of failure to capture their true essence and impact.

The Einhorns are both 90 years old, Lois is Barry’s senior by two months. When they sit down with me at noon on January 31, I hand them each a card with a question. After 67 years of marriage, I ask each one to tell me something about their spouse.

I confess to being overwhelmed by their standing in the community as grassroots social activists who co-founded Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, and introduced Operation Understanding to Hampton Roads (OUHR), just for starters. Rather than trying to check every box of contributions made and positions held, I decide to honor them as a couple married 67 years, whose Jewish values go where they go, and whose synergy people don’t forget.

Everything I had read or heard about their philanthropic instincts can be distilled to one truth. Their purpose is to change lives. They do it by making others feel valued and respected.

Lois reads her card. “What does Barry do to make people feel valued, appreciated and cared for? What is his greatest gift?”

She tears up and answers without hesitation, “He listens to what they have to say. He asks questions because he becomes interested. That’s how you get people to feel cared about. He shows them ‘he cares about me.’ He was a pediatric dentist. I worked for him for 32 years. He has a gift with children. The whole office became that way. Everything in the office was designed for the children. First thing he did when a new patient came in was post their picture with a polaroid.

Next, Barry gets his card. What does Lois do to make people feel cared for and important? What is her greatest gift?

“Lois is my alter ego, she directs me,” he says. “I’m a free-flowing individual. She is really centered. Detailed. She gets involved. When someone asks her to do something, she remembers what they said and makes a plan. She acts on it. Lois cares deeply about people. Like when we started Operation Understanding. We were on a trip to Birmingham with the students. A black man who looked homeless was in front of us in line at a fast food restaurant. The worker disregarded the man and took our order first. The students spoke up in protest. At the breakout session that night when we talked about it, Lois got very emotional. The way she cares is like having your grandmother on a trip with you.”

Lois and Barry Einhorn have been officially retired from Barry’s professional pediatric dental practice for decades, but remain as active as ever, though not just in the Jewish community. Lois is a 37-year breast cancer survivor. Their daughter Wendy just celebrated 12 years cancer free.

“I accompanied Wendy when she was receiving chemotherapy at Lake Wright Virginia Oncology,” says Lois. “While we were there, two ladies came by with two carts carrying sandwiches and drinks. We were told that they were volunteers for The Cancer Care Foundation of Tidewater and that volunteers prepared and served sandwiches, drinks, etc. to patients as they were receiving chemotherapy. Twelve years ago, my friend and I started volunteering. Barry joined us after the first year.

“When Wendy retired a year ago, she took my friend’s place,” continues Lois. “So, every other Thursday I prepare 27 sandwiches and Wendy prepares 22 sandwiches. We then place a half-sandwich in a little plastic bag so that we have 98 halves. Wendy and I take orders and serve, and Barry prepares the drinks. We serve about 100 patients each visit. Of course, all of this is free for the patients, which is nice, but the most important thing we do is to bring a ‘ray of sunshine’ to the patients who are being treated. We consider this one of the very special activities we participate in.”

The decision to sell their house and move to an all-inclusive community for seniors was a decade-long process.

“At 80, we considered it, but thought it would bring us down,” Barry says, referring to a depressing perception of the senior living community scene. “We are very comfortable here. We love it. The truth is, we could have done it five years ago and would have been just as happy. We tell people not to wait. Now’s the time to do it. Don’t wait until you’re ready.”

As they consider the future, and the possibility of one of them being left alone, peace of mind is the end game. “The Talbot does a very good job of making people feel that this is your home,” says Lois. The couple loves the apartments and vital community so much they’ve ‘sold’ others on the quality of life the Talbot delivers.

“We went from ‘this place will take us down’ to we can’t even do all the activities around here,’” says Barry. “If one of us is gone, at least the other will feel at home here.”

“Our lives are steeped in Jewish community. Here we entered into a living experience with a whole different population. We don’t hide being Jewish, Lois and I are out there. We let them know. At 7 am, we go to services at Temple Israel every morning. The non-Jews are very curious when I leave with my yarmulke on,” says Barry.

Lois adds, “we wanted to fit in and be respected as Jews—and respectful.”

As co-founders of Operation Understanding Hampton Roads their roots are showing. Taking an interest in other faiths and cultures was the centerpiece of OUHR.

Lois was instrumental in collaborating with Julian Bond and Karen Kaylish in bringing OUHR to Hampton Roads. For nine years, it included five community organizations that came together to create transformational experiences for African American and Jewish teenagers. “Our goal was to create diversity ambassadors,” says Lois. “Each black teenager was assigned to a Jewish teenager and vice-versa. When we went on trips, you were responsible for your partner. We attended a lot of church and temple services. Saturday was temple. Sunday was at a church. A black child was invited to seder. A Jewish child went to church on Easter, so they could experience the other person’s culture. 130 kids went through the program. We were able to travel with the kids. I celebrated my 75th birthday there. It was one of the highlights of our life.”

Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel has planned a Friday night service for Jewish residents at the Talbot. “I guarantee there will be more non-Jews there,” says Barry.

Before they started a family (Wendy has a brother, Marty Einhorn), the Einhorns were involved with the Little Theatre in Norfolk. One of the rules of improvisational theatre or improv is ‘Yes And.’
‘Yes And’ is considered a good leadership tool, not just fodder for open mic night.

‘Yes And’ could be their secret sauce.

‘The couple who finishes each other’s sentences,’ doesn’t apply to Barry and Lois Einhorn. They listen intently to each other, then they build on what the other said to make a make a point or tell a story. Their styles are different, but they both share the same key to people’s hearts.

Kindness is their legacy. And education. From Be A Reader (BeAR) and Sunday School director to Summer Institute for Jewish Learning and Project Ahava.

Now, if only they would get back on stage and offer an Improv Master Class.

- Lisa Richmon

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