Marilyn Bensman, 89
Longtime NCFR member Marilyn Bensman, Ph.D., passed away on April 30, 2015, at age 89.
Her funeral service took place at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel in New York City (a recording is available online), and she was buried at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York, on May 2. Her children are David Bensman, Rhea Bensman Monin, and Miriam Bensman Santora.
Dr. Bensman began her service as NCFR's representative to the United Nations in 1992, and over the next 20-plus years took on the important work of keeping NCFR abreast of and involved in family-related issues on the international stage.
Memorials in her honor can be made to Doctors without Borders, or to Habitat for Humanity International, or any world aid organization. Condolences can be sent to David Bensman, 3 Colony Drive East, West Orange, NJ 07052.
The following was written by Dr. Bensman's son, David Bensman:
All her life, as a mother, a home maker, a teacher, a scholar, and as a participant in an NGO, Marilyn Bensman has devoted herself to the cause of the education of women and children. Her appreciation of the importance of education grew from her experiences in New York City's public schools, where a high school teacher named Aaroni encouraged her to pursue her interests at a college outside of New York. When she arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, she found that there were no dormitories that provided accommodations for a Jewish woman from out of state, so she joined and helped build the first integrated housing at the University of Wisconsin. At Wisconsin, she encountered the brilliant refugee sociologist, Hans Gerth, a student of Karl Mannheim, and her exposure to Gerth's historical sociology set her on a course she has pursued for more than fifty years.
Her academic career was interrupted by the birth of her children, a fate met by many academic women in those benighted times, but during her child-raising years, education continued to be her priority. Her children attended public schools, made regular visits to the public libraries of Queens and Great Neck, and fell in love with reading and engaging in the task of social change through political involvement. When her youngest child reached the age of five, Marilyn resumed her academic career, completing her Master's degree in sociology by writing a thesis on the role of Bar Mitzvah in the development of families on Long Island. As she pursued her Ph.D. at the New School for Social Research, she began teaching at Adelphi University on Long Island. Her dissertation was on the family ideologies of the women's movements of the nineteenth century. After she received her Ph.D. from the New School, she began teaching sociology at Lehman College, including courses on social movements, the family, and death and dying. She received tenure at Lehman and taught there until her retirement.
The death of her husband in 1986, after a long battle with cancer, disoriented Marilyn for a while, but she regained her footing with the help of a group of feminist academics at the National Council on Family Relations. For almost thirty years, these women, and this organization, became central to Marilyn's life. Every week she traveled from her West Side apartment to the United Nations, where she represented NCFR and served on committees dealing with Children's Rights, Migration, and the Family. Her apartment at the Majestic, and later in Lincoln Towers, became a meeting place, and a party venue for Marilyn loved being the hostess, a responsibility and a joy she took seriously. Her work took her to Beijing, Turkey, Italy, and Mexico, where she met brilliant, learned women who became friends and colleagues in a global network of scholars engaged in social development and social justice work.
Even after arthritis made walking difficult, Marilyn ventured out on New York City's handicapped-accessible buses, crossing Manhattan to attend weekly meetings at the United Nations. Her first stroke, in the summer of 2012 didn't stop her from making her weekly crosstown trips, although she did splurge on a taxi more often. Writing her reports on committee meetings and programs remained a burdensome but rewarding responsibility. She played her role as an NCFR representative to the UN until late December 2013, when a second stroke earned her a second retirement. In the months since then, her friends from NCFR have remained an important presence in her life. As they fly in and out of New York, working to improve the lives of children and foster social development around the world, they stop in at her apartment in Lincoln Towers, bearing the gift of friendship, and the joy of engagement with the task of making of a better world.
On behalf of my mother, Dr. Marilyn Bensman, I, and my sisters, and all her grandchildren, would like to thank you all for what you've done for her, and what you do every day in your steady work.