MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Saturday, May 16, 2020, Mira Hamburg, beautiful, loving mother of three children, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of six, passed away at the age of 100.
Mira was born on Aug. 30, 1919, in Feodosia, Russia, to Alexandria (Sasha), a milliner, and Louis Mashkes, an engineer and owner of a cigarette factory. After breaking Louis out of a Russian prison during a pogrom, Mira’s mother Sasha bribed some men with jewels she had been able to hide from pillaging soldiers. She had sewn diamonds into buttons to hide them.
The men arranged for the family to be taken by boat to Istanbul, Turkey. They thought they would be able to return to their homes and lifestyle on the Black Sea, but it never became safe to return. In 1923, they found a ship to take them to New York, where they entered America through Ellis Island.
Officials there, unfamiliar with Russian names, Anglicized most of their names. Ivan became John, and Mira became Mary, but she never used Mary. At home, she was always Mira, and at school, she was called Miriam. In Russian, “mira” means “peace” and “world.”
Mira, her parents and her three older brothers (David, Daniel and John) settled in Chicago. For a short period of time, Sasha and Louis operated their own restaurant in Chicago called the Russian Inn. Louis then spent the remainder of his working years as an elevator operator for Mount Sinai Hospital.
Mira graduated from Harrison High School two years early at the age of 16 because she had skipped a year twice. This was during the Depression, and so, right away, she found work so she could bring money home for her parents and brothers. She had to change jobs on several occasions because when her employers discovered she was Jewish, they denied her time off for the High Holidays, and treated her poorly in other ways.
She met Alvin Hamburg (also a graduate of Harrison High) in 1937 in Chicago, and they married on Dec. 20, 1942. Their first child, Linda, was born in 1945 in Chicago. In 1950, Al and Mira moved to Champaign, where they had two more children, Susan, born in 1951, and David, born in 1952.
In their first couple of years there, Al and Mira ran a grocery and bar owned by Al’s sister and brother-in-law, Lottie and Louie Zibel. It was located in an interracial neighborhood, and the Hamburgs were loved by their customers. The family lived in the back of the store. As soon as he was able, Al opened a package liquor store, Al’s Drive-In Liquors, and Mira went to work for the Unit 4 school system.
Mira and Al were members of Champaign’s Sinai Temple as soon as they became residents of Champaign. They were lifelong, dedicated supporters of the Democratic Party.
After Al retired from the liquor business, Mira retired from the school system. Immediately, they set about volunteering wherever help was needed. It became their raison d’etre. Mira volunteered at the sheriff’s office and spent years volunteering at one of Champaign’s homes for female victims of spousal abuse and rape. Al passed away in April 1997.
Mira remained in Champaign until she was coaxed to move to Montgomery, Ala., in 2013 to live with her daughter Susie and husband Marvin. She was a member of Sinai Temple, its sisterhood and Hadassah for 70 years.
Mira was known for her kindness, goodness, sense of humor, friendship, wisdom, humanity, intelligence, peerless vocabulary and spelling expertise, expert cooking, baking and sewing skills, infectious laugh, unending patience at providing a laughing response for her husband Al’s numerous jokes, and her ability to be a second mother to anyone who needed one. She was a blessing in the lives of all who knew her, and everyone wanted to be her friend.