Non­fic­tion

Lilyville: Moth­er, Daugh­ter, and Oth­er Roles I’ve Played

  • Review
By – April 12, 2021

When Lily Kaplan Feld­shuh was in her late eight­ies, she audi­tioned for a role in the 1999 movie A Walk on the Moon. As her daugh­ter, Tovah Feld­shuh, recounts in her mem­oir, Lilyville, Lily was not phys­i­cal­ly present. Instead, using Lily’s diaries as inspi­ra­tion, Tovah chan­neled her mother’s per­sona for the audi­tion. It worked. Tovah got the part and arranged for her moth­er to be an extra. Togeth­er they trav­elled to film — Tovah and Lily, plus Lily’s aid, walk­er, and Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe.

But this bond between moth­er and daugh­ter took years to form. Tovah Feld­shuh grew up with a stal­wart mater­nal pres­ence but deaf­en­ing mater­nal silence. In Lilyville—which spans near­ly five gen­er­a­tions of the Kaplan – Feld­shuh fam­i­ly — she recounts her rela­tion­ship with her moth­er, and the emo­tion­al dis­tance that exist­ed between them for most of her life.

Lily, who was born to immi­grant par­ents in 1911 on her family’s din­ing room table in the Bronx, was the third of four sis­ters and the shyest. At sev­en­teen, she met Sid­ney Feld­shuh, whom she ulti­mate­ly mar­ried; he remained her sweet­heart until he died at eighty-six. In Tovah’s ear­li­est years, the rau­cous pres­ence of extend­ed fam­i­ly liv­ing steps away ingrained in her the val­ue and unbreak­able con­nec­tions of fam­i­ly. When she was in kinder­garten, Sid­ney and Lily built a house in Scars­dale, New York.

Sidney’s opti­mism, sup­port, and exu­ber­ance formed the sails at Tovah’s back, pro­pelling her for­ward as a con­sum­mate actor, singer, and play­wright. It took years for Tovah to real­ize that Lily’s silence belied her pride and respect for Tovah’s work and for the per­son she had become. It was not until the first anniver­sary of her father’s death that Tovah expe­ri­enced her mother’s latent spir­it. Rather than wear a black suit to his unveil­ing, Lily wore navy blue, explain­ing to Tovah that with the pub­lic unveil­ing of the memo­r­i­al stone, she felt that she had per­mis­sion to pub­licly become her own person.

From that point for­ward, Lily under­stood that liv­ing whol­ly and joy­ful­ly would be the great­est trib­ute to her beloved Sid­ney. At nine­ty-five, she became the old­est per­son in the world to under­go an exper­i­men­tal heart pro­ce­dure; at one hun­dred, she trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton, DC to receive the Coura­geous Patient Award. When she was 103, Lily met Tovah for lunch in New York every Wednes­day after the mati­nee for Pip­pin. Ulti­mate­ly, Lily suc­cumbed to a mas­sive brain hem­or­rhage and died at her Scars­dale home sur­round­ed by fam­i­ly from the Unit­ed States and England.

Lily’s silent, unwa­ver­ing and per­fect pres­ence dur­ing Tovah’s child­hood was her demon­stra­tion of love. What she was unable to express, she felt deeply. Decades passed before Tovah under­stood that her mother’s emo­tion­al dis­tance was a reflec­tion of her reserved nature; when Lily blos­somed, she became radi­ant and expres­sive. Lilyville is a three-act play cel­e­brat­ing the endur­ing bond of moth­er and daugh­ter. Like in any great script, the char­ac­ters are resplen­dent, flawed, and ulti­mate­ly redeemed in a dra­ma that is still being writ­ten by gen­er­a­tions of the Kaplan – Feld­shuh family.

Rab­bi Reba Carmel is a free­lance writer whose work has appeared in Jew­ish Cur­rents and The Jew­ish Lit­er­ary Jour­nal and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Rab­bi Carmel is a trained Inter­faith Facil­i­ta­tor and has par­tic­i­pat­ed in mul­ti­ple Inter­faith pan­els across the Delaware Region. She is cur­rent­ly in the Lead­er­ship Train­ing Pro­gram at the Inter­faith Cen­ter of Philadelphia. 

Discussion Questions