The Incredible Story of The Miracle Twins

Past Articles:
ONE ON ONE WITH DIANE SHIRLEY PAIGE

By: Ellen Geller Kamaras



“How did I deal with life’s challenges?  I went with the flow.  My motivation is very high and I did not let fear control me. I tried new things, always growing.  We are all actors in a play called life, and Hashem is the ultimate director.”

~~ Diane Paige

Since January 2017 I have had the honor of interviewing numerous amazing women from our community.  They have ranged in age from 25 to 91, and their careers and life purposes vary greatly.

I have talked with founders of hesedorganizations, medical and health professionals, teachers, coaches, chefs, entrepreneurs, and many creative and talented women.

Each time I think to myself: this woman is the most remarkable person I have interviewed. Yet, I have been fortunate to meet one incredible woman after another.  Below is the story of a most remarkable community member.

Diane Paige, at 91, is a dynamic and quite extraordinary woman and I will try to do justice to her narrative and her many accomplishments in the limited space of two pages.  I was fortunate to interview both Diane and her daughter Barbara Haber.

Family History

Diane was born in Brooklyn to Bertha Cohen and Jack Shalom. Her father relocated his wife and daughter to Albany for his childrenswear  business, and Diane did not return to Brooklyn until she started Lafayette High School.

Jack Shalom was born in Syria but his family emigrated to Alabama when he was two years old.  Bertha, of Moroccan descent, was born in Paris and attended the prominent Sorbonne University.  One of her brothers was the leader of the Paris Opera.  Bertha fortunately managed to move to the U.S. after WWI. She traveled to N.Y.on a cruise ship with other fellow classmates.

Jack and Bertha were introduced by a relative in Brooklyn. They married and settled in Bensonhurst.  Diane was an only child. “I missed out, I had no siblings, when I was six, my baby brother died.”

Diane’s Childhood

What was her childhood like?  Diane recalls that there were no other children in her apartment building, so she had only a few friends. However, her memories of joyful times spent with her father are quite vivid.  Jack took her horseback riding and ice skating. 

“My father was quite handsome, and he loved gardening and building things.   His roses and cucumbers won prizes and he planted victory gardens.”   Diane attributes her feisty, creative, and innovative nature to her dad.

In contrast, her mother was a quiet woman who loved listening to operas and doing crossword puzzles. Bertha learned to bake using the fruit from the cherry and apple trees in her garden. “My mother was a beautiful, petite, and exotic-looking woman who radiated calmness.  She taught my daughter Barbara all about opera and imparted stories of her childhood. She lived till the age of   94.  My dad died in his seventies and I am grateful that Mom lived with me and passed away in my Deal home.”

Diane’s childhood dream was to become a doctor, but her parents discouraged her from going to medical school (it was not common for women to go into medicine in the 1950s) and at 18 she married her husband Leo De’Picciotto.

Marriage and Family

With her marriage to Leo, Diane began a journey of traveling from city to city, every three years.  In many ways Diane enjoyed it. There was a new adventure to be found in each new town, but she admits it was difficult.  The couple started out in Brooklyn where Leo worked with his father-in-law. They moved to Chester, Pennsylvania, then to Detroit, followed by Cincinnati, Fort Lee, and Deal.  Leo rented a store in each location and sold various gift items or antiques.

Diane gave birth to five daughters, but tragically lost her youngest, Deborah, when she was only two years old.  Diane is so proud of her daughters, Gerrie Bamira, Dale Paige, Barbara Haber, and Janis Marcus, for their meaningful contributions both professionally and to the community. Hashem also blessed Diane with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she cherishes.

You may be wondering why Diane uses the last name Paige.  Although De’Picciotto was a highly respected Syrian name, the town clergymen in Pennsylvania and the Midwest would assume the family was Italian and invited them to come to church.  Diane and Leo decided it was time to change their last name to a simple one, Paige.

When the Paige’s visited Bradley Beach in the summers, people would notice how sophisticated their daughters were.  “Living in different cities gave my daughters a quality of worldliness.”

Dreaming Big

When Diane was 38, shortly after Deborah passed away, Diane decided to follow her dream and pursue medical studies. Although she yearned to become a doctor, she thought nursing would be more financially feasible. Diane enrolled in an intensive two-year program and became a nurse at 40. “You can lose everything but no one can take away your education.”

Diane’s daughter Barbara explained that while she was enjoying college life, her mother was tackling difficult math and science courses.  Diane interviewed for a pediatric nurse opening but the management at Englewood Hospital thought that might be too painful for her; “It would be like losing Deborah all over again.”  Instead, Diane accepted a demanding position as a psychiatric nurse.

Five years into her nursing career, Leo wanted the family to move back to a Sephardic community.  They chose Oakhurst, NJ as the town where they would build their home.  Diane intentionally selected a spot next door to Magen David of West Deal Synagogue. It started out as a summer home. Their daughter Barbara moved in to stay with Grandma Bertha and lived there from 1976 to 1985. 

Diane partnered closely with the builder and architect and made many enhancements to the plans.  She also enjoyed decorating the house, and realized she wanted to pursue interior design.  “When I decide to do something, I do it.”   Diane took classes in interior design and became a successful interior designer. She became popular with the Jersey Shore Sephardic community and she also designed professional offices in NJ and NYC.

Trials and Tribulations

Diane describes herself as daring, adventurous, creative, intuitive, and someone who gets bored easily.

After spending two hours with her, I would add resilient, focused, flexible, optimistic, smart, sassy, funny, warm, energetic, and giving.  Diane resolved to learn how to fly a plane in her fifties.  “If you are afraid of death, you are afraid of life.”  

Life dealt Diane many hurdles, but she knew she was not in control,  Hashem was.  Yet, Diane took chances, continued to grow, and fought her diagnosis of a rare cancer at 70, enduring hours of surgery and 30 radiation treatments. In her poetry book, Feelings, which she published before her 80th birthday, Diane crafted an insightful selection of her perspectives on life’s experiences.  It includes poems about birth, parenting, family, challenges, love, and more.  Diane reads her poems to bereavement groups.  Diane also wrote a book about the 9/11 tragedy and has written several articles about Israel.

For her 80th birthday, Diane requested that her friends and family donate to Hadassah rather than buying her a gift.  Instead of relaxing in her winter apartment in Aventura, Diane became the president of the Turnberry chapter of Hadassah.

Diane’s prescription for life

Diane’s mantra is “Life laughs at us, so let’s laugh back.”  We spoke a second time so that Diane could tell me about a difficult time in her life that she turned around with levity.  When she found out she had cancer, she made a decision.  “I’m going to die so let me have some fun. I learned to live with cancer and handle it!”

Diane feels very connected to her community, which is why she built her home next to the West Deal Shul.  “I am blessed to be part of a community with people who support wonderful hesed organizations and causes.”

Her hobbies?  Writing poems, painting, playing Solitaire, Bridge, and Canasta, participating in book clubs, and attending the rabbi’s classes. And, of course, connecting with people.

Her advice to the younger generation? “Don’t fear life, follow your dream while swimming upstream.  If you are motivated, it will work.”

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).