March 25, 1925 – February 27, 2019
Philip Seidman, a World War II veteran, lifelong reader and printer, and deeply-loved husband, father and grandfather, passed away last Thursday in Brighton, New York, near Rochester. He was 93.
Phil was born in Harlem, New York, to Samuel and Ethel Seidman on March 25, 1925. Samuel and Ethel had immigrated earlier to the United States from Eastern Europe. Phil was the youngest of four siblings. He had a brother, Irving, and two sisters, Schaindel and Esta.
Phil moved to the Bronx when he was 5 years old. One cannot understand the person Phil became – witty, caring, sharp, political, well-read, a depository of intelligence – without understanding the extraordinary world that shaped him. Phil grew up in a neighborhood of first-and second-generation immigrant Jews that was teeming with life, even during the Depression-era 1930s. He was surrounded by a vibrant, lyrical, and intensely literate working-class New York City Jewish culture.
Throughout his childhood, inside and outside of his home, Phil was exposed to the rich Yiddish language, the Jewish vernacular that was so full of life. Both his parents spoke Yiddish to each other at home, and Phil would continue to have a knack for the language for the rest of his life.
Phil recalled laying on his floor as a child, his young eyes pouring over the bilingual Jewish Daily Forward, a paper his parents always read. Phil later became a lifelong reader of the New York Times, which he read cover to cover everyday. He always followed, intensely, the news of the day.
The window near Phil’s childhood bed looked into a courtyard, he remembered, that was regularly filled with violin players. He only had happy memories from his childhood, and he later looked back fondly on this period of his life - “when roses smelled like roses,” he once remarked.
Phil’s formative years were filled with excitement and peril. He came of age during the heyday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and, later, World War II. Phil remembered his father, Samuel, as a quiet but dedicated parent. His mother, Ethel, was sharp and spirited, a member of the American Labor Party, and the head of her local branch of the Workmen’s Circle. Phil’s father was a member of International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, a union built by immigrant Jewish garment workers.
Throughout his life, Phil’s worldview was rooted in a deep caring for the kind of working people he grew up around, and an anger towards the intolerance and discrimination towards Jews, and others, that he witnessed in the world of his youth. He grew visibly upset when talking about bigotry towards people in any form.
Phil was part of the generation of the sons and daughters of Jewish immigrants who, through the collective experience of the Great Depression and World War II, became more fully American. He was proud to be a lifelong Democrat.
As he approached adulthood, Phil was keenly aware of the looming peril across the world. He paid close attention to the rising threats of anti-Semitism and fascism In Europe in elsewhere. The bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred when Phil was 16 years old.
When Phil was drafted into the army in May 1943, he was not reluctant to serve, but rather saw it as his duty to help win the war. He was assigned to the Amphibian Engineers. After training stateside, he was shipped to Papua New Guinea, where his unit prepared to participate, if necessary, in a U.S. invasion of Japan. The surrender of Japan to the allied forces in August 1945 prevented this.
Phil participated in the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan. Throughout his life, he remembered laying on a cot in Japan, in a building whose top had been completely blown off, looking at the nighttime sky. While he was always proud of his service and the U.S. victory in World War II, his experiences also helped him develop a deep understanding for the horrors of war, which he carried with him throughout his life
Phil returned to the Bronx in 1946, to a new country that had exited the Great Depression and won the war.
In May 1947, Phil experienced a life-altering moment: he went on a blind date with a stunning, dark-haired young woman named Shirley Epstein. They had grown up barely two blocks apart, unknown to each other. Phil immediately fell for Shirley, and she soon followed.
Phil and Shirley were married on April 4, 1948, at the Burnside Manor in the Bronx. They remained married for nearly 71 years. Even into his old age, Phil would revert into a soft, flirtatious voice when he described to his grandchildren how much he adored their grandmother, all while Shirley smiled, shyly.
After studying at technical school, Phil became a printer. He always kept his first union card, from the International Typographical Union, which he received in 1951. Phil was a proud, lifelong union member.
As a printer, Phil worked for papers like the New York Daily News and New York Times, among others. Later in his career, he also became a proofreader. One sees a thread between Phil's early years - surrounded by news, words, conversation, papers - and his chosen vocation in taking part in the production process of this world of news.
In 1952, Phil and Shirley had their first child, Joseph. They soon moved from the Bronx to Flushing, Queens. In 1955, they had their second child, Helaine.
As he raised his family over the next two decades, Phil remained deeply immersed in the news of the world, and he was part of a close-knit community of friends and family that played bridge, bowled together, and went to Synagogue. During this time, Phil also pursued his hobby of singing, which he had a great talent for, and which he continued late into his life. He even sang a few tunes at his son’s wedding in 1997, when he was 72 years old.
Phil and Shirley move to Coram, Long Island in 1980. Phil retired in 1987. He helped start a local Democratic Club while he was living in Coram. According to Phil and Shirley, Phil started the club with Steve Israel, who later went onto became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even in his old age, Phil remained sharp as a tack. His wit and intelligence were on full display during family word games like Boggle or Quiddler, when he effortlessly found words that no one else even knew existed.
Phil spent the last two decades of his life in West Palm Beach, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, and, in the last months of his life, in Brighton, New York. He remained a regular volunteer with the Jewish War Veterans. When he went out, he often wore, proudly, his World War II Veteran cap. Until the last weeks of his life, random people would come up to him and thank him for service. Even as his health declined, he continued to follow the news and discuss politics with his children and grandchildren. He participated, in person, in the 2016 Nevada Democratic primary caucus, just shy of his 92nd birthday.
Phil was many things in life. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and uncle. He was proudly Jewish. He was a veteran, a Democrat, and a volunteer. He was a reader, a singer, a wordsmith, and a union printer and proofreader. Most of all, he deeply loved his family. He lived a long, dignified life - and, even as he was what we might call an ordinary man, he was intensely part of his times. Through his example, and through his memory, he shaped the generations of his family that came after him, all for the better. He was a true mensch, who brought joy to friends and family. We will always love and cherish him.
Phil is survived by his longtime wife of nearly 71 years, Shirley Seidman (née Epstein); two children, Joseph Seidman (Nitsa Papouras Seidman) and Helaine Hunter Smith (Paul Smith); four grandchildren, Derek Seidman (Alma Carrillo), Alison Seidman, Michelle De Barros (Paul De Barros), and John Seidman; and one great-grandchild, Mateo Seidman.
Philip will be laid to rest on Monday, March 4, 2019 at 3:00pm in White Haven Memorial Park, with full Military Honors.
- Graveside Committal Service Monday, March 4, 2019