In 1945, former AZA Sweetheart Etta Garelick married former AZA President Harold (Bae) Epstein. Their love story started in high school, when they met through their good friend Betty Rubin. Etta and Bae were blessed to share 70 years of marriage, three sons, Paul, Gary and Steven, their love of the Jewish community and their generosity to both the Jewish and secular communities. Both Etta and Bae grew up in humble homes; Etta came from South Omaha and Bae from North Omaha. Through their shared dreams, goals and hard work, they created a more comfortable life for their family and gave generously to their community.
In order to pay tribute to their parents’ lives and carry on their legacy of supporting the Jewish community, Paul, Gary and Steven Epstein established the Etta and Harold Epstein Security Fund at the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation. This newly established fund will pay for police and other law enforcement and security personnel to provide security for one or more events each year for the Jewish community. These are events that anticipate 50 or more attendees held at Jewish venues, or venues that require security for Jewish programs and events.
“Anti-Semitic violence, discrimination and expressions of hostility have created a climate of fear among a substantial number of Jews, impairing their ability to enjoy their rights to liberty and security. Our Jewish community offers many wonderful events in all of its agencies and we want to ensure this continues to be a safe environment. Our parents loved Jewish events and encouraged us and our families to participate whenever possible. They would be relieved to know that the agencies could continue to put on spectacular programming without having to worry about budgeting for security. It’s also fitting that their legacy as Jewish philanthropists will continue to live on.”
Etta was the daughter of Russian immigrants, Edna “Yocheh” and Ben Garelick, who settled in South Omaha. Ben started working at a packing house and when he had enough money to buy a horse and cart, he became a fruit and vegetable peddler. He worked long days until a concern about his heart forced him to retire as a peddler. He then worked temporarily at Kilpatrick’s, followed by employment at the Nebraska Furniture Mart.
Etta was a devoted and involved mother to her three sons. She volunteered in the PTA and Cub Scouts. She loved Beth El Synagogue, enjoyed playing Mahjong and Pan with her friends, bowled weekly in a ladies bowling league and played golf at Highland Country Club in a Women’s league. Etta was also involved in Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women and Beth El Sisterhood.
Bae’s parents were also Russian immigrants. His father was a fruit peddler and later worked at a liquor retail store before working at Nebraska Wine and Spirits, which was started by Bae. Bae joined the Army when World War II broke out and served overseas from 1943 to 1946, receiving several commendations. During World War II, he was assigned to a hospital in Malverne, England. While he was stationed there, another Omahan, Norman Hahn, was brought in with a concussion. Norman and Bae had grown up together, and Bae was assigned to sit with Norman for an hour every day. During those times, he helped Norman to regain his memory with stories of their times together in Omaha.
After Bae’s military service, he worked for McKesson Wine & Spirits where he advanced rapidly. Bae became the Midwest regional vice-president of the company with responsibility for nine wholesale liquor houses in six states.
On Sept. 2, 1975 Bae realized his dream and purchased the wine and spirits division of Capitol Liquors. On Feb. 1, 1977 he moved the facility to a larger location to better accommodate his customers. Under Bae’s leadership, the company continued growing with a total area of warehouse and office space of approximately 100,000 square feet.
Bae was inducted into the Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame in October 2001. Like Etta, Bae loved raising his sons, playing golf, and “a good game of Gin Rummy,” according to Gary. Traveling was also one of Bae’s loves. Bae’s volunteer activities included Israel Bonds, B’nai B’rith, along with various secular causes. Bae and Etta helped build the Harold and Etta Epstein Family Chapel of Remembrance at Beth El cemetery.
“Mom and Dad loved their Omaha Roots! Their local group of friends and family were very special to them. They were proud of Jewish Omaha and being a part of Beth El Synagogue and the Jewish Community Center. Etta and Bae loved to travel and play golf. Their biggest thrill in life was to be with their family and see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren at every Simcha and holiday. Family always came first. Bae Epstein was always proud of his last name. He always wanted that legacy to be continued. The Epstein name was taught to his grandchildren to be “Respect and Integrity”.”
“My parents taught my brothers and me the meaning of being Jewish and the importance of practicing our Judaism and the importance of giving Tzedakah. They felt fortunate to be part of the wonderful Omaha community and they ingrained into each of us the significance of giving back to the community that we grew up in. We were blessed with parents that loved us unconditionally and for that we honor the memory of our loving parents, Harold and Etta Epstein.”
Establishing the Etta and Harold Epstein Security Fund was the perfect choice to honor beloved parents and dedicated members of the Jewish community.
“Security is becoming more and more of a challenge with threats in our society, with white supremacy and other groups, nationally and locally. Etta and Bae Epstein loved their Jewish Heritage and close friends and family in Omaha and would want to know that they helped create the safety for large Jewish get togethers in Omaha,” said Gary.
Etta and Bae Epstein’s legacy of love for their community is suitably remembered and honored now and throughout the years by helping to ensure security at events and programs in the Jewish community.