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Love Story: An empty chair filled their hearts for each other

Lisa and Jim Schlesinger in December 2018 at

Lisa and Jim Schlesinger in December 2018 at a family Hanukkah party in their Roslyn Estates home. Credit: Schlesinger Family

Jim Schlesinger of Roslyn Estates talks about meeting his wife, Lisa (Geffen), 77 years ago.

The love story began in 1944 at the Hebrew high school at B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue in Manhattan. We were both 14, and Lisa had just moved from upstate Troy. When she entered the classroom the first day of school, she saw three empty chairs: one next to a wall, one next to a girl and one next to a boy. She sat next to the boy — and that was me!

We both lived on West End Avenue on the Upper West Side. We dated other people, but always came back to each other. We got engaged in December 1950 and married on March 18, 1951, at B'nai Jeshurun, where we had met.

We lived in Manhattan and the Bronx until I was called up to serve in the Korean War. Off we went to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver where I went to intelligence officer training. From there I served as an intelligence officer at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. In 1953 I was bound for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippine Islands. After five months, Lisa joined me, and we lived in off-base housing. Though it was wartime, it was a big adventure for us.

We returned home in April 1954. Two months later our first daughter was born, and in April 1955 our second daughter was born. On one Mother’s Day we had no children, and the next Mother’s Day we had two — and they weren’t twins! We were living in Glen Oaks, Queens, by then, and I started working in the family business, New Jersey Pulverizing Co.

In 1958, like many young families, we moved farther east on Long Island, to Roslyn Heights. In May 1960 our third daughter was born. I was locked in as the singular male in the family! We took to suburban life, raising our girls and becoming active members at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights. Lisa joined the Sisterhood, and I joined the executive board and Men's Club. Lisa made her mark in the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. We both held offices in our respective organizations.

Ever upward, we moved in 1966 to Roslyn Estates, where we live today. Once the girls were in school, Lisa went to work. She worked at the North Roslyn Elementary School, long ago closed, and later at Publishers Clearing House in Port Washington. She went on to be assistant village clerk for the Village of Roslyn Estates. I did a stint as president of the Roslyn Estates Civic Association. Over the years we became supporters of the Schechter School of Long Island, a Jewish day school.

In retirement, I worked in the Schechter High School office, making Lisa very happy since she always said, "I married him for better or for worse — but not for lunch!"

When we both retired, we had the good fortune of being able to travel the world. Along with frequent trips to Israel, we visited China, Japan, Russia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Europe, Asia, Egypt, Australia and New Zealand. Some of our most precious memories are celebrating milestone anniversaries with our children and grandchildren.

Life is quieter since my stroke a few years back. We enjoy frequent visits from "the girls," sons-in-law and grandchildren. We’re even great-grandparents! Though the pandemic curtailed celebrations of our 90th birthdays last year, Zoom allowed us to celebrate with friends and relatives around the globe.

Having celebrated our 70th anniversary, I share my prescription for a happy marriage: "Be lucky you found the right person to love!"

— With Ann Donahue-Smukler

TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU MET. Access the online form at newsday.com/lilovestory — or send an anecdote along with your phone number and a photo to ann.smukler@newsday.com, or call Ann Donahue-Smukler at 631-843- 2520. Publication is not guaranteed. Photos cannot be returned and may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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