Marci Goldfinger was noodling around on the internet in July 2012 trying to find out a bit more about the family of her father, Irving Goldfinger.
On a census document from 1930, she found the names she expected. There was her grandfather, Abraham Goldfinger; her grandmother, Sadie (Ecman) Goldfinger; and her uncle, Harold.
But the next line down surprised her. To Marci Goldfinger’s knowledge, her father had only had two siblings, his older brother Harold and his younger sister, Ruth (Irving and Ruth were not included in the 1930 census as it predated their births). Why was there a line for an older sister named “Norma Goldfinger?”
Marci Goldfinger called up her father, and asked him that question. He was silent for a while.
“That must be the name of my sister,” he finally answered.
Irving Goldfinger, 88, was a child when he first learned about the existence of an older sister, one who died before he was born. It was something he heard by accident, secretive grown-up talk that a child hears in passing. When his parents died in 1990, Irving Goldfinger had never asked them about what he was sure he’d heard once, decades before.
And even after Marci Goldfinger turned up the name “Norma” in 2012 — the first time Irving Goldfinger put a name to an idea — he didn’t know what to do with the information. It was only after watching a “Sunday Morning” segment in the fall of 2020 about the desecration of a Black cemetery that it clicked for him: He needed to find Norma.
He wasn’t sure how he was going to do it. The pandemic was entering its most deadly stage, keeping him isolated at home in Richboro, and he did not use the internet. But he felt more than a compulsion to try. He felt a responsibility.
“Life is important,” Irving Goldfinger said. “To some people in the world today, life is not important. Life is important. She existed. And I want to honor her.”
Irving Goldfinger was born in 1932. Sadie Goldfinger, a born Philadelphian, was at home with her children, and Abraham Goldfinger, born in Poland, was a cutter for J. Maimon & Sons, a clothing company, eventually rising to the level of foreman.
Irving Goldfinger graduated from Central High School before earning an accounting degree from Temple University. In 1956, just a few years out from Temple, Goldfinger married Estelle Miller, and the two were married until her death on Dec. 1, 2018, their 62nd anniversary. They had two daughters together, Marci Goldfinger, of Chalfont, who works for Johnson & Johnson, and Susan Goldfinger Bilker, of Jamison, a licensed clinical social worker.
For 50 years, Irving Goldfinger earned a living as a CPA, specializing in fraud analysis.
“I learned early: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he said. “You could smell it.” He was a partner at Laventhol & Horwath for 23 years, which came to a crashing end in 1990 when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to the Chicago Tribune archives.
That same year, both of his parents died and they took any information about Irving Goldfinger’s sister with them to the family plot in Roosevelt Memorial Park.
“It was boom, boom, boom,” Susan Goldfinger Bilker said. “It was rough for him.” In the fall of 2020, when Goldfinger informed his daughters of his intentions to find his older sister, they could see how freighted with meaning the search would become.
“This has been a quest for him,” Marci Goldfinger said, “and it would be a relief that we found her.”
In October, with help from his daughters, Irving Goldfinger decided that it was finally time to find some facts, and more specifically, to find Norma.
“She was alive, she was a person,” he said, his voice cracking. “And she is not being recognized.”
The trio began to file records requests, searching for traces of Norma in the archives of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Having found Norma’s date of death — Aug. 13, 1931 — they were able to file with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for her death certificate. In October, they received a copy.
Norma Goldfinger was born on Sept. 21, 1929, and died at the age of 23 months, with the cause listed as “diabetes acidosis with coma.” Her father’s name is misstated as “Albert” — that was his nickname — and his place of birth is incorrectly listed as Russia, rather than Poland. The burial date: Aug. 14. The cemetery: Har Jehuda.
They called Har Jehuda, who told the trio that there was no record of a Norma Goldfinger. Irving Goldfinger was told that in 1931, there was such an influx of bodies due to a wave of influenza that the cemetery was “overrun.” They decided to widen their pool, calling the undertaker company listed on the death certificate, Mount Jacob Cemetery, Mount Sharon Cemetery and King David Memorial Park, but they had no luck getting any closer to Norma.
Goldfinger asked Rabbi Charles Briskin of Congregation Shir Ami to make some calls on his behalf; Briskin obliged, but could turn up no new information.
Hoping for something more, the family paid for the full file on Norma from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Philadelphia. The money was returned with a letter, letting them know that records from that time period had been lost in a flood.
“Time is ticking,” Susan Goldfinger Bikler acknowledged, and the likelihood of being able to place a stone on Norma’s grave can seem dim. But her father always had a mind for details, and he remains a sharp thinker. “It would be a wonderful thing, to be able to honor her and to be able to say yizkor and do all the things that you should do for family.”
Irving Goldfinger is distraught that his search is taking so long, but he is persisting with the help of his daughters. As he said, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And he believes there’s an awful lot of smoke.