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Love Story: Edna and Phillip Ritzenberg

Phillip and Edna Ritzenberg of Woodmere have been

Phillip and Edna Ritzenberg of Woodmere have been married for 60 years. Credit: Ritzenberg family

Edna Ritzenberg of Woodmere recalls her international courtship with husband Phillip.

In January 1955, I was staying with my sister and her family at their farm outside of Cape Town, South Africa, when my mother called to say an American aircraft carrier was in the harbor. I lived in Sea Point, a suburb of Cape Town.

The Union of Jewish Women was offering hospitality to the carrier’s Jewish sailors. I called the president and asked how I could be of help. She suggested I contact Lt. Phillip Ritzenberg. I called and introduced myself as Edna Heneck. He arranged to meet me the following day.

I brought my nephew, who collected matchbooks from visiting ships and had begged to go, along with my two nieces. We walked to the officer’s gangway and there he was — tall, dark, lean and oh, so handsome. After a most interesting tour, I invited him to lunch at the farm. He accepted and changed into his dress whites before we left.

Phillip was from Cleveland. We were both 24. When I drove him back to the ship that evening, he asked me to write to him.

We corresponded for a year and got to know each other. During that time I accepted a teaching job in Tel Aviv, Israel. I mentioned this to Phillip in one of my letters. When he realized my ship would dock in Venice on the way to Israel, he said he’d meet me there.

He was now on the staff of the commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet on the Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia.

He hitched rides on several Navy planes. Two days after arriving in Venice, he produced a ring and asked me to marry him. I said, “yes.”

We needed the Navy’s permission to marry, and I also needed a visa for entry into the United States. Because we were foreigners getting married in Italy, we had to hire an Italian lawyer. We took a train to Navy headquarters in Naples to seek help getting through the red tape. What usually took six weeks was accomplished in 12 days. On March 8, 1956, we were married in a civil ceremony officiated by the vice-mayor of Naples. I cashed in my ship ticket and travelers checks to buy two one-way airline tickets to Norfolk.

My parents were able to join us in Rome before we flew to New York and on to Norfolk. We were married again on May 10 in a Jewish ceremony, the first Jewish wedding performed in the Interdenominational Chapel on base.

We have two sons and two grandchildren. Phillip served in the Navy from 1954 to 1956 and in the Naval Air Reserve until 1975.

In 1959, we moved from Cleveland to Far Rockaway. Phillip worked at several newspapers, including the Daily News as assistant managing editor and was publisher and editor for The Jewish Week. He then established a consulting business designing smaller daily and weekly newspapers around the country from 1993 to 2008.

I taught elementary school in the Hewlett-Woodmere Public School District for 28 years, during which time I ran the gifted-children program. I retired in 1992.

— With Virginia Dunleavy

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