Shoshana Elias


In 2013 Grand Avenue Club published a book called “Facing Forward: An Artist, A Community, and Stories of Resilience." The portraits were by Colleen Kassner, a local artists. They were accompanied by members’ own accounting of their biographies and the journeys that led them to GAC. More than half of the 51 members whose portraits and stories are in the book remain connected to the GAC community. Five have died and at least 2 live in other states but have sustained their relationships with GAC colleagues via phone, text, and e-mail.  

Since nearly 10 years have passed since the publication of “Facing Forward,” we thought it would be interesting to talk with members who told their stories in our book to learn even more about their life journeys. We begin with Shoshana Elias. 

What Shoshana had to say in 2013:

“I was born in San Diego, California where my father was in the U.S. Navy, but I was raised in Milwaukee. I was the “unexpected twin,” as they did not have ultrasounds in those days. My parents divorced when I was seven years old because of my father’s extreme abuse of me, my brother, and my mother.

At age 15, I became involved with a Jewish youth group and discovered traditional Judaism. What attracted me to it was the warm atmosphere and I decided to become religious. My brother and I were in the first class of six kids at the Jewish High School of Milwaukee—which no longer exists—and then I graduated from Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a high school in Chicago.

Throughout high school, I was very active in the Jewish youth group, serving as chapter president, serving on the regional board, and helping to run the organization on a daily basis. After high school I took off for study in Israel, where I was miserable. A rabbi advised me to change schools, but I decided to return for my second year in Israel. At the new school, I met the man who was to become my husband via a shiddach, meaning our marriage was arranged by a matchmaker. In the first years of our marriage, I experienced abuse, six miscarriages, uterine cancer, and the Gulf War. When my young children were diagnosed with major medical issues, our family returned to the U.S., to Cincinnati, where a specialist in what ailed my children practiced medicine. 

In 2007 I had a major breakdown and, throughout 2008, I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Even after I came to Milwaukee at the end of 2008 to be close to my mother and stepfather and extended family, I experienced several psychiatric hospitalizations at several different hospitals. 

I joined Grand Avenue Club in May of 2009 and jumped into this community full force. I came every day and stayed all day, working in Membership and then in the Administration Unit. I did data entry and developed data bases. I also worked with our Director of Development; I entered every donation into the computer. This work led me to believe that I should get some training so that I could acquire the credentials to get a job in this area. For the first time, I felt needed and good about myself.

In August of 2011, I returned to school for an associate degree in an Administrative Professional program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Although I had not been in school for 23 years, I have worked hard and I have been on the Dean’s List, the Provost’s List, and maintained an “A” average all four semesters. I could not have achieved this without the support of the Grand Avenue Club community. GAC colleagues—both members and staff—have tutored me, written letters on my behalf for scholarships, and arranged for a strong GAC supporter to pay my tuition one semester. They have helped me through my difficult divorce, and they are continuing to help me to secure unsupervised visits with my children, something that is turning into a lengthy legal battle.

In a few weeks, the GAC director, people from my synagogue, and an MATC administrator are all accompanying me to Cincinnati for a hearing that will determine whether I can have the unsupervised visits with my children, something to which my ex-husband is permanently opposed because he does not believe that recovery from mental illness is possible. These friends will be there to testify about my stability and reliability and the enormous progress I have made over the past few years.

My self-esteem and self-confidence are high because of my involvement with this community. I feel that I am now able to withstand whatever obstacles and challenges confront me. I feel, for the first time, as if I have a future. I never thought I’d be happy in life because my ex-husband told me repeatedly that I would never accomplish anything, but I know now that I have talents, just like everyone else. My self-confidence and self-esteem are high. Once I finish school, I am planning to be a legal secretary working for an organization that does legal advocacy for people who have experienced mental illness. I also hope to be able to have a fuller relationship with my four children.”

Shoshana speaking on September 1, 2022:

"Here it is, almost 10 years later, and my life is very changed. I continue to live in the Milwaukee area. I work full time at ACC Management Group where I am in charge of Property Management for a large apartment complex (pictured to the left). I am still involved at GAC as a member, although I am no longer directly involved in our work days from Monday to Friday. I remain a regular attendee of our monthly “People Interested in Employment” (PIE) group, which meets on the last Sunday afternoon of the month. I have gotten much good advice from the PIE group. Also, I have been a GAC board member for several years. This is my last year as the secretary of the GAC board of directors.

As of July 2021, I have been a proud home owner! I purchased a spacious 2 level condominium in a nice location and have enjoyed decorating my condo both with the many paintings that I have done over the years and photographs of my family. Although I am now painting in a small art studio that I set up in my home, my interest in painting was initially stimulated by the arts programming at GAC and the enthusiasm of some of my GAC colleagues for my work. 

I am also very proud and pleased that my 3 oldest children are married. I loved being at all the weddings—one in Israel, one in New York, and the most recent one in New Jersey. I have 6 grandchildren. My youngest daughter will be starting college next week in New York City. I travel to see them as much as possible. My son and his wife visited me in my home recently and I am looking forward to hosting my other kids there as well!

Grand Avenue Club remains a major part of my life. It’s always there for me, as are my GAC friends: staff as well as members. I am glad that I was able to meet the many challenges of my life in order to emerge as the employed, confident, homeowner that I am today. I hope that some of the younger people at our PIE meetings will be strengthened by my story. I hope that they will realize that, even if your challenges are formidable, you can meet them and have a satisfying life.  

February 23, 2022

Shoshana and her children-- Miriam, Tzivia, Tehilla and Yisroel-- at her son's wedding.

July 8, 2022

Shoshana and her son Yisroel in Milwaukee.

An original art piece by Shoshana entitled "Swans at Sunset."

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