Our Guest: Barbara Greenspan Shaiman
About this Episode
What are you doing to create a life of purpose and meaning? For Barbara Greenspan Shaiman, whose mother lost 65 family members during the Holocaust and whose father worked for Oskar Schindler, the subject of the Steven Spielberg film, “Schindler’s List”, the answer came during a 1989 visit with both her parents to the Auschwitz death camp, where Shaiman’s mother was incarcerated. After observing the disrespectful behavior of teenage boys who were also visiting Auschwitz, Shaiman experienced an epiphany to create cultures of caring that span multiple generations. She quickly discovered that anyone of any age – from schoolchildren to seniors — could honor a similar commitment. As she says, “The more you give, the more you get.”
5 Things You’ll Learn
- Living a legacy proves far more rewarding than any legacy you hope to leave
- Multiple generations are needed to convert personal interests into social action
- Creating a culture of caring within the family system
- Applying Shaiman’s mother’s test: Were you a mensch (good person) today? How?
- Ensuring lasting value by combining what you care about with what makes you angry
Welcome to our podcast called Love, Longevity, where we help you to live longer better. Our host, Michael FitzPatrick, Founder and CEO of the Long Term Living Association, otherwise known as the LTLA, interviews thought leaders, innovators, and experts across the country on a variety of issues related to aging and longevity, finances, legal, legacy and philanthropy, health and wellness, relationships and family, housing and transition, caregiving, and more. The goal of the LTLA and this podcast is to change the paradigm as to how seniors and their families view and plan for aging and longevity issues. Now, join us as we welcome today’s very special guest on this episode of Love, Longevity.
Well, welcome back, everybody, to our Love, Longevity podcast. I am your host, Michael FitzPatrick, and we have a very, very special guest with us today by the name of Barbara Greenspan Shaiman, also known as Barb. Barb, can you hear us?
Okay, fantastic. Whether it’s morning, afternoon, evening, whenever somebody’s listening to this podcast, we have a lot of value in store for you today. In fact, the name of this podcast is Live Your Legacy Now, which is so interesting because people constantly think of leaving a legacy and Barb’s going to touch on how to live your legacy now. Barb’s background and her bio are extremely impressive. Before I get into her and the top for the day, the main goal and the purpose of the Love, Longevity podcast is to provide value and inspiration, education, information to seniors and their families so we can help them to live with dignity and purpose and meaning.
It’s so interesting that from ages 20 to 55 or 60, there’s so much focus on personal development, and growth, and expansion, and opportunity, and we feel like our whole life is ahead of us. For some reason, from 50, 55, 60, and beyond, there’s not as much there for the next wave of people who may have 20, 30, or 40 years still in their second half of life or the new phase of life. The purpose of this podcast is to just really bring support, and encouragement, and inspiration, and once again, education, and information to people as they journey into this second half of their financial life, their emotional life. They’re now going from being parents to maybe grandparents, and so on, and so forth. So lots of transition and a lot of misinformation out there, but if we can touch one person with our messages, then we’ve done our job.
Barb, before I hand it back over to you for a second and let you introduce yourself to our listeners, I’m just going to read your bio here, if that’s okay, because it’s the reason that we actually sought you out to be a guest on our podcast. Your background is so impressive. The work that you’ve done is so impactful, and I know that it comes from a real serious place of heart. You have a real desire to contribute and to give back.
Here’s Barb’s background. Throughout her career, she’s a noted educator, a businesswoman, social entrepreneur, and she’s used her skills and ability to empower others to create social change. In 1995, she founded Champions of Caring, which is a nonprofit organization that has empowered over 10,000 youth in Philadelphia and South Africa to become leaders in public service and active, engaged citizens. She’s created programs that have inspired and motivated young people with the skills to create service projects to address local and global issues and to create cultures of caring within their own schools and communities.
The success of Champions of Caring with young people, combined with Barb’s professional experience, entrepreneurial spirit, and over 30 years of public speaking led her to create Embrace Your Legacy, and she’s written two books, Live Your Legacy Now: 10 Simple Steps to Find Your Passion and Change the World and Live Your Legacy Now: My Legacy Portfolio to share her message and encourage adults of all ages and backgrounds to embrace and live their legacies.
One of the most interesting parts of Barb’s bio is that she’s the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and by the accompanying sense of responsibility that comes with legacy, her mother was incarcerated in Auschwitz and is the sole survivor of a family of 65 people. Her father worked for Oskar Schindler, whose story Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, was based. This family legacy, coupled with her personal and professional experience and work with Champions of Caring, have motivated Barbara to help others to live their legacies by giving back to their communities. Through speeches, and workshops, and consulting, she shares her approach to provide participants with the necessary tools to create social change in an informed and creative way. Barbara’s presented the message to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, locally, nationally, and internationally, and she especially enjoys bringing multiple generations together to inspire and teach them how to convert their values and interests into actions that are meaningful and rewarding.
I don’t generally like to read off too many things that are too lengthy, but this is a perfectly short summary to an introduction, Barbara, to our audience of where you come from and who you are. I’m going to start it off by asking you just to give us a little backstory. Where did you grow up? Tell us about your family. How did your family history inspire and empower you?
Okay, well, I was actually born in Regensburg, Germany after World War II. My parents, as you mentioned, were Holocaust survivors. My father worked for Oskar Schindler, and my mother, unfortunately, was incarcerated in three death camps and lost 65 members of her family. My father, by working for Schindler, had protection because he was given food and clothing and had a safe haven for a while. Then he was put on the death march, and they both met in the Theresienstadt concentration camp which is outside of Prague in Czechoslovakia. I was born in Germany, lived there for three years, and then we moved to New York City in an area which Lin-Manuel Miranda made very famous with his play, In the Heights, in Washington Heights area of New York around 164th Street.
I lived in a community where there were actually a lot of Holocaust survivors, and I’ve frequently been interviewed and said, did you think that being the daughter of survivors was unusual, and my answer is I actually thought everybody was because my whole neighborhood was like that. What was so interesting about growing up in this community was the love and affection and support that all of the survivors gave to each other’s families. Even though I really didn’t have aunts and uncles, real ones, they became the extended family and what I learned the most from them was their resiliancy, their ability to go on after they might’ve lost spouses, children, family members, but realized the value and gift of life, that every day should be lived to its fullest, and that there’s also social responsibility to give back.
When I was a little girl, I remember my father making calls if someone lost their job and saying, “Oh, my God, Mr. Schwartz just lost his job. Let’s kick in some money to help him out,” and he’d say to my mom, “You got to get food going. Call the women. Let’s start making meals and bring it over to them.” Now you have to realize, my family and these families had no money themselves. They were new immigrants to this country. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t have a skill because my mother was only 15 when the war broke out. Yet they banded together and provided support for each other. That’s really where I learned the importance of giving back, that even if you have very little, you can still cook a meal and bring it over to someone’s home or offer them comfort. They sent Schindler money until he died out of gratitude. These were the Schindler Jews that Oskar Schindler helped save because you don’t forget a kindness. The more you give, the more you get back.
My upbringing was really one of learning that life is a wonderful gift; you need to enjoy it. It can be very painful, but you need to get through the pain. I think resiliancy is the core value that my family taught me, the importance of being able to pick yourself up even after terrible experiences and give back. They loved life. They liked to go dancing. They liked theater; they liked opera I saw them model a life of joy because their feeling was we were lucky. We were able to survive, so let’s really live life to the fullest.
What a background. What an example that you had also. In fact, my grandfather on my mother’s side, William Kinney, he passed away I believe now; it was almost 13 years ago in 2005, which is really hard to believe. He was 18 or 19 years old, and he worked for the 42nd Rainbow Division, Infantry, and he was one of the first five people into Dachau to help rescue the folks that were in the concentration camps. He was a 6-foot-4 machine gunner who was deployed on the front line. Usually wouldn’t put a 6-foot-4 person on the front line because they’d be a big target. Through faith and through prayer and just – and really trying to conquer evil, they did what they had to do. They were one of the first ones in there, which is so interesting to hear your story. Your mom being the only survivor, my goodness, there’s probably so many stories that you have in general.
How did all of – what did you do in your career, work-wise or business-wise, or just personally before you started the nonprofit and then also the Embrace Your Legacy Now movement that you started?
Well, it’s very interesting that you ask me that because I’m a Baby Boomer, and when I went to Hunter College in New York in the ’60s, I was really told that I could be one of three or four things; a teacher, a nurse – I’m trying to think – a secretary, or get married and get my MRS and not ever have to work, and truly that’s what it was like in the ’60s. I married a man who was part of a corporation, and the culture was such that every three to four years, we moved to a different location. I started reinventing myself because I came to understand that you own your skill sets and just because I was trained in college to be a teacher and I did do that for a while and I wrote education programs for Title I, which is a program that helps kids who are typically very low scores in English and math, but also they tend to get into trouble, and we were trying to write very creative curriculum to keep the kids interested. I started pairing them with senior citizens. This was in the ’70s when that was though to be an outrageous way to approach things I have to chuckle because so many years later, we understand the incredible impact of pairing different generations together and how rich that is for both generations.
As I kept moving, I became a marketing person for Haagan-Dais and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Because the opportunity presented itself and I felt I have good persuasive skills and public speaking skills, I tried that. I also taught at Hebrew school because I had a strong Hebrew background. At one point, I was doing that. Then when I moved to Philadelphia, I got involved in the executive recruitment business. I became a partner in a national firm that recruited senior-level healthcare executives and physicians.
Then I did something that twas particularly gutsy for me. It was really my mother who never had much of an education because her education was truncated when she was 15, said to me, “Why don’t you open your own firm?” I started my own national firm which was unthinkable to me in the ’60s. I never thought I could become the CEO of a company, and have employees, and work all over the United States, and even open some offices in foreign countries for a while. I really love my work.
Then something happened. I went to Auschwitz with my family. As lucrative as my profession was and as much as I loved dealing with the CEOs of hospitals and healthcare institutions and their boards and putting together the profiles for the prefect candidate to come into their organization, my day in Auschwitz changed my life forever. I realized that I did not just want to be an entrepreneur. I did enjoy doing what I was doing and helping healthcare institutions around the country create cultures that were really helpful to the community and bring in very talented people, but may I tell you the story of what changed my life in Auschwitz on that day?
Absolutely, I would love to hear it.
My mother used to compulsively brush her teeth, and we used to make fun of my mom and get upset with her. Why are you brushing your teeth all the time? Even in dementia, she would have her aide get up at 1 and 4 in the morning because she needed to brush her teeth. Why do I tell you this? Because in 1989, my mother decided we should all go back to Poland, and that she and my father should tell my brother and myself the story of what happened to the family. This is before Steven Spielberg did A Show of Foundation where he has tapes of over 50,000 Holocaust survivors around the world telling their stories.
My mother got 100 Holocaust survivors and their children to go on this trip. As we were walking into Auschwitz, my mother turned to me and my brother and said, “I was 19 years old. I lost everything, my mother, my father, my sister, my two brothers, every possession that I had, but I snuck a toothbrush into my dress. It was the last vestige of my humanity. Every day, I didn’t have water or toothpaste, but I would take the brush and I would try to just go over my teeth because that made me feel human. It made me feel like I was still a person with some level of dignity. When I got to Auschwitz,” she said, “they too away my toothbrush.”
Well, Michael, I had such a visceral reaction to this, I started shaking and trembling. I was mortified that I sometimes made fun of her brushing her teeth all those years, but I’d never heard this story. I rean out of the museum of Auschwitz into the courtyard, and there were a group of 15 and 16 year old boys clowning around and laughing and not acting appropriately for a place like Auschwitz. It’s a killing place. There should be a decorum and respect. I speak German, so I went over to them. That’s what they were speaking, and I said, “Do you know where you are? Is this the way to behave? Have you no respect?” and they started laughing.
At that moment, I had an epiphany that I needed to change the focus of my life, that I needed to create cultures of caring where people would have the necessary respect and understanding of where they were and what they were supposed to do to contribute to a society, to make a society better, to understand from the tragic lessons of history how we should behave differently so history should not repeat itself. The name Champions of Caring just came into my head. It was an epiphany I thought, what if I can help teachers create cultures of caring in classrooms where they rewarded young people not just for their academic or athletic prowess but for their heart, for being kind, for being compassionate, for caring. What if, as an entrepreneur, I could teach these kids how to create projects? I knew how to do that, create projects, though, for social change. Right there in Auschwitz in 1990, the concept for Champions for Caring was born.
I came back to America, and I approached a friend of mine, Bob Wright, who at the time was the CEO of NBC Television, and I told him about my plan. He knew me and my family very, very well. He said to me, “I have a meeting with Steven Spielberg in a couple of weeks. Would you bullet out the major points of what you’re sharing with me about creating these cultures, teaching kids to become social activists, and I would read this to him,” and that’s what happened. Bob took this letter, read it to Steven Spielberg, and Steven helped fund this concept that I had, which evolved into a 501(c)(3) that worked with 10,000 kids here in Philadelphia, and I was also very blessed to be able to start a program in South Africa.
It was that experience of walking into Auschwitz that truly changed my life and made me revisit who am I, what are my values, what are my skills, what should I be doing with my life to make a difference? I really believe everyone in their own way can make a difference. You don’t have to become a social entrepreneur. You don’t have to start a 501(c)(3), but I think everyone can live richer, more meaningful lives by creating projects for personal growth and social change.
Absolutely, 100% agree. Now, if we were to transition that into our audience as well – because our audience would be generally the Baby Boomers and beyond, folks who are in that 55 and beyond who have children or grandchildren who would benefit from the Champions of Caring types of work as well, but let’s talk about Legacy for a second, and let’s talk about just the idea of Legacy and how that applies to people at all stages of life. You mentioned that you have a legacy formula that you created and it can help people of any age. Share with us that concept or your ideas and thoughts on the topic of legacy, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, how people can incorporate it, and what your formula is that you’ve created, how it can help other folks.
Well, to me, Legacy is a way of adding meaning and purpose to your life by giving back to your community and contributing to the world around you. It’s not for me about what I leave after I’m gone but rather how I take my values and I put them into action. The piece that’s so critical for me is passing this on and doing this with multiple generations. I highly recommend that at a holiday time or a time when families get together to start talking about what do you like to do? What do you care about? How can you make a difference? I started doing this with my grandchildren when they were about five and six years old, or bringing them to award ceremonies when they were even younger where I was honoring kids. I think it’s a great place.
My mother used to do something called the menge test. Menge means a good person, and every day, my mother would ask me, “Were you a menge today? Tell me how you did that.” I used to think I’d have to fabricate these incredible stories that I was Super Woman flying over burning buildings and saving lives. What she really taught me was with intentionality, did you make someone’s life better today? Did you go with a focus of helping someone? It could be as simple as not slamming the door in someone’s face, saying something complimentary to someone you might not even know, or being a listening ear to people who might have a problem, but teaching that value to children and grandchildren.
I think what differentiates the way I look at legacy living is really making it multiple generations, from one generation to the next. I think at a holiday, Thanksgiving, if you’re Jewish and you celebrate the Sabbath, sitting down and going around the table. What did you do today – you could use the word menge or any word you want – to be kind to someone, and how did that make you feel? That’s how you create a culture of caring within a family system. It could be done in a business system I’ve worked with businesses to have them look at what can we do with our employees to give back to our community in gratitude for what we get from the community.
It could be done with friends. I remember giving a lecture like this and seven girlfriends came to hear me speak. They said to me afterwards, we used to meet once every couple of weeks just for lunch Now we’re going to start meeting to create a project that resonates for us and we can all contribute by our skills. Some of us are good speakers; some of us like to publish and create a brochure; some of us have the better ideas and really know how to implement an idea. Together – and now these women keep meeting, and they’re addressing different issues that are important to them in their own community They’re people within the Champions of Caring system.
I’d love to share a quick story with you about Raul. Raul was a 15 year old Hispanic young man when I met him. Here’s a question that I always ask when I give a presentation. What are you passionate about? What do you love to do? What really turns you on and lights you up? Here I was at Drexel University with a group of about a hundred kids, and these were high school students. Drexel was our partners, and they gave us the space. Raul raises his hand and he says, “I love salsa dancing. When I do salsa dancing, I’m the happiest I can be.” My second question was, what makes you angry? What’s something in society that really makes your hair stand up because you’re so angry every time it happens? Without hesitation, Raul said to me, “Old white people who see Latino and African-American boys like me walking down the street and they ignore us. They don’t make eye contact. They make an assumption that we’re not nice kids.”
I said to him, “Raul, do you think you could take your love for salsa dancing and your anger about this kind of prejudice and do something with it?” Instantly, he looks at me and says, “Those old white people go into the senior center right across the street from my school. What if I went in there and I taught them salsa dancing? Maybe they’d change their attitude.” I said to him, “That’s a fabulous idea; I love that.” I said, “Let me tell you about this word called impact. You can do this one time, and you could really have a lovely day. If you really want to create impact or change, can we sit and talk about a bigger plan than just going in one time?”
We got a guidance counselor at his school to work with him, and he recruited 20 African-American and Latino boys to be part of the plan. They wrote a letter of introduction to their principal and the CEO of the senior center explaining their goals and objectives, so they knew what they wanted to do. They started by teaching each other how to teach the salsa because they knew that was a different skill set. They then went into the center and taught 70, 80, and 90 year olds the salsa. These seniors in turn taught them the jitterbug and they began to bond. From that relationship evolved such close connections. Their grades went up academically. They decided to do an oral history project, and they came in with their video teachers and starting asking the seniors were they ever bullied; how did they feel; did they ever bully someone else; how was that? They really started bonding.
These 20 kids then got up in front of their school of 1,000 students and shared how they’re changing attitudes in this part of Philadelphia. They then went on to paint the senior center, and I remember we had an awards ceremony at Drexel, and Raul got on the stage with an 84 year old woman and they started dancing the salsa. Then she went to the microphone and said, “Before I met Raul, I had hate in my heart, and I didn’t even know it. Thanks, Raul, for teaching an old dog new tricks.”
At the end of each of my lectures, I end by saying, “So what’s your salsa?” Everybody must have something that they care about, that they love to do, and how can they, with other people, define what that might be and how they can create some change around it. The key is you have to care about it. You can’t give someone just a list of topics and say pick one; do that. That’s not how it works for me. It has to be something that you care about. I care a lot about youth. I spent a lot of my career working with youth. I care a lot about not having bullying, and violence, and hatred in this society.
My trip to Auschwitz crystallized my own thinking on how I can take what I love and what upsets me and put it together and create a project. This could be something that you do once a month. It doesn’t have to be a 501(c)(3), but it would be a great conversation to have with family members, with colleagues at work, with people in your faith-based community to find something that resonates for you and create a small project or look at what organizations in my community are addressing a topic?
For instance, for me right now, the issue with immigrants and what’s been happening in our country is a big one. I’m going to jump into that much more so because I was an immigrant, and I know how grateful I was that I could come to this country and lead such an incredible life. I want to help other immigrants, so this for me is a new legacy topic that I want to address in a more powerful way. This is always evolving. You can always think about who should you include; what kind of talent and skill do you need to make the project actionable and really impactful.
I encourage the people who are listening today to think about what do they love to do? What’s an area they’d like to create change around? Who should they involve? How can they get young people involved? If you teach this ethic of caring and taking your values and putting them into action to people at a very young age, you create a society of young people who really care.
I just want to say, Michael, I do a lot of speaking on college campuses, and they use my book in MBA programs and in business schools. I love the way Millennials react to me and to this concept. They are so ready to live this way, and I think we should understand that generations coming together to create change is a very rich way of addressing needs in our society.
Absolutely, no, there’s – we’re all going to be remembered for something. There was a great quote I heard a number of years ago that said your life is either going to be an example or a warning. Why not be an example if we have a choice? In wrapping up here, couple last questions. How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a person who cared and tried to make a difference, someone who reached out and had a nice word for a lot of different people, and also someone who was able to meet people of all background, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions, and wanted to extend a hand in friendship.
What a wonderful way to be remembered. It sounds like you’re living that way now so that when the stories are told about – what do your grandkids call you?
When they’re telling stories about Bubbie, these are the stories that they’ll share. Last two fun questions: what’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?
Well, I speak five languages. I’m not saying I speak them well, but I can tell you that I was once stuck in Vietnam, and believe it or not, Yiddish, which is one of my languages, bailed me out. I met someone – I was very lost; I didn’t know where I was headed, and I think speaking a lot of languages – which happened because my parents never did a sentence in one language. They would throw in words from so many different languages and my brother and I realized early on that for us to understand what was going on at home, we had to learn a lot of these languages That has been extremely helpful to me in life.
Wow, and what’s one of your favorite quotes?
I used it before, actually: the more you give, the more you get. I think it’s a Mastercard commercial about something being priceless; your family is priceless. When you touch someone’s life in a positive way, the glow that you get by seeing them so moved is beyond description. The more we can do for someone else, the more we touch our own humanity. It reaches right into our souls.
I gave a speech, and the topic was Spa for the Soul. I encourage your listeners to think about what are they doing for their souls. How are they living a life of meaning and purpose so that their souls sing and that they feel great about themselves? I can tell you from my own experience that touching other people’s life is priceless.
Absolutely. Any parting words here as we wrap up? Before that, what’s the best way for listeners to connect with you or to learn about your work or to find your contact information?
Sure. My website is Embraceyourlegacynow.com. I give a lot of speeches all over the country; I enjoy doing that a lot. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I would love to hear from them and share more of my interest in social change. I would say to your audience start small. Pick a project that touches you, but don’t think of creating a 501(c)(3). Start with something that can include people who are important to you in your life. If it’s going to a shelter, if it’s Thanksgiving, you make it a tradition to go help feed the homeless. Whatever it is, start with a small idea and build on it. Once you start doing this, it becomes more and more natural to you. If you look at my websites, there are a lot of tips. In the books, Live Your Legacy Now, there are a lot of tips on how you can really begin to do things.
Also, join an organization that does this kind of work and see what they do and if you can bring some new thoughts to the other people. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Find out what you care about and then wade in slowly and see how it feels. It will take you to where you need to be, but don’t start in over your head. For the age group 60 and over particularly, if you are retired and you have more time, start exploring areas of interest to you and see what you feel is comfortable Don’t jump in over your heard. Start with a comfort level and I think it will help add tremendous purpose and meaning to your lives.
Wonderful. Well, Barbara Greenspan Shaiman, thank you so much for your words. Thank you for everything that you’re doing out there in the world to make it a better place. We really appreciate the time you spent with us today. I know our audience and our listeners are going to get tremendous value out of what you’ve shared and what you’re basically sharing is just your life experiences. The stories that you’ve shared have very, very appropriate meaning to all of our listeners. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to seeing everybody on the next episode of Love, Longevity. Barb, thank you very, very much.
It was a pleasure. Thank you for your wonderful work, Michael. Have a good day.
Alright, we will. God bless.
Thank you for joining us on this episode of Love, Longevity. With 80 million Baby Boomers coming into retirement, we need to change the paradigm as to how seniors and their families view and plan for aging and longevity issues. Here at the LTLA, we are your partner for aging options. To learn more about the Long Term Living Association and how we can help you, please visit us at longtermliving.org.