Judy & Ellie
“Go where your heart is telling you.”
The dining alcove in Judy Ginsburg’s apartment has floor-to-ceiling mirrors that seem to pull New York City in from the outside and paint it on her walls. The window sills and nearby shelving are covered in family portraits, artifacts from Judy’s travels, and cards from loved ones. Her home is a literal reflection of her life in and love for the city.
Though she grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Judy always suspected that she was a New Yorker. And after receiving a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Judy made the move that she’d be waiting for her whole life. At age 21, Judy arrived in New York City to pursue a Masters in Education and never looked back.
Shortly after moving to New York, a friend set Judy up on a blind date. The man’s name was Sigmund Ginsburg. This blind date with this intelligent, funny, born-and-raised New Yorker turned into a courtship, a relationship, and a marriage of 56 years.
“Sig’s” work with the Museum of Natural History took them on trips around the world. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we’d go to these places.” And while their adventures make for funny stories and great souvenirs, Judy speaks with the most pride about Sig’s work as the founder of the Urban Fellows Program. The selective program brings a diverse group of exceptional college students from across the country to New York City, introducing them to work in local government and public service. Sig and Judy championed these students and their goals just as they did their own children. And, of course, they worked to give as much back to the city as it had given them.
After decades of service to the city they called home, two children and three grandchildren, the time came for the Ginsburgs to pursue care of their own. It was Sig’s care needs that initially brought the family to Duet. Judy called because they were “working on finding just the right companion” for Sig, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease 6 years prior. The Ginsburgs worked with Duet to build a care team that supported their needs until Sig passed away in December of 2020. And since then, they’ve adapted to support Judy’s ongoing care.
Judy’s team of caregivers have been essential, consistent figures during a very hard year that included not only grieving the loss of her beloved husband but also the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Fortunately for the Ginsburgs, one of Sig’s caregivers, Diana, had stepped in during the pandemic to care for both Sig and Judy and continues to work with Judy on an ongoing basis. Their relationship is beautiful to witness. They have a shorthand. A shared sense of humor. They’re true companions.
Judy’s daughter Beth offered, “as a daughter, I’m never worried…We’ve been extraordinarily lucky with our care.”
Earlier this year, they decided to expand the team of caregivers to meet Judy’s needs. And when it comes to finding care, Judy admits that it’s a bit like going on a blind date (given the success of her marriage, Judy knows a thing or two about blind dates!): “you meet a lot of wonderful people, but when it comes down to it, you have to go on your gut feeling.” Who can you spend 8 hours a day with? Who shares an interest in learning and the arts? Who will be a good teammate? Furthermore, Judy was looking for someone artistic, young at heart, and easygoing.
When Judy met Ellie, the connection was immediate. After an initial interview over Zoom with Judy, Beth, and Diana, Ellie was invited in for an in-person meeting. Ellie, who studied fashion design at FIT, was looking to supplement her work as an artist; she was drawn to the intimate and intentional work of being a caregiver. Of their first in-person visit together, Ellie recalls being fixated on all the art and sculptural pieces in Judy’s home. She added with a laugh, “[and] I don’t remember why, but I remember dancing in the living room!”
And so she joined Judy’s care team. The transition was incredibly collaborative – from a large calendar on the wall with important dates and special occasions to an active WhatsApp group between Judy’s children and her caregivers. “Entering a home where someone is grieving is a lot of emotional responsibility,” Ellie shared. She was constantly thinking of Judy and how she was doing, even on days they weren’t spending time together. The delicate balance was still to find ways to connect, learn about each other, and have fun
Ellie smiled as she said, “Being a companion is really just about being in the moment to what Judy needs at that time.”
Despite the hard times, what struck Ellie most was Judy’s wonderful, dry sense of humor. They’d spend hours reading The New York Times aloud to each other from cover to cover. And then there are the luncheons. Judy keeps a very busy social calendar, lunching often with friends or her caregivers.
At a recent meal together at Numero 28, Judy regaled Ellie with stories from her life and made a new friend of their server, offering advice, and encouraging both young women to really go for the things they want in life. “Go where your heart is telling you,” said the Beaver Falls native, who certainly listened to hers.
And now, with roughly 60 years of city living under her belt, a typical day for Judy…simply doesn’t exist! As her daughter Beth explained, “My mother’s always been very young at heart. She’s interested in the wider world and new things and young people. Museums. Art. Restaurants. And she just loves New York City.”
Throughout this year of so many transitions, what remains consistent is Judy’s thirst for knowledge. Her interests are far reaching – from documentaries on Miles Davis and Hemmingway to World Politics courses offered online by the 92 Street Y.
And nothing lights Judy up like talking about her daughter’s organization: Book Clubs In Schools. Currently based in the UK and growing internationally, BCiS takes a normal book club model and adapts it for school settings. Judy is so proud of her daughter’s work. In fact, she’s proud of anyone around her that sets their mind to something and puts in the work. She’s got an incredible strength of character, and she clearly brings it out in others.
In a spontaneous conversation about discipline and the creative process, Diana proclaimed to Judy, “[sometimes] time stops! Hours and hours pass.”
“That’s when you know you’re creating,” Judy confirmed. “You look toward an end product and think, no way could I ever, but [you just go] step by step by step by step and teamwork?”
Diana shrugged as if to say “anything’s possible.” Judy nodded in agreement.