Poppy Helena Petrovana Blavatsky Finston, 93 years old, gives a person a lot to think about––and not just because she’s been an avid tap dancer since the age of 14.
First of all, there’s her name. “My mom named me ‘Poppy’ after the California poppy, because I had reddish blonde hair. Then my father named me Helena Petrovana Blavatsky after the founding mother of Theosophy, which was his religion.” Theosophy, you may wonder? “Divine wisdom is what it means.”
Poppy was born, raised and married all in the same house in Oakland, along with five sisters. “After the sixth girl was born, my mother said, ‘I quit! If you want a boy, find yourself another woman!’”
Poppy and her family lived in an almost completely gentile community. “But everyone was very nice to us in my neighborhood. My mother would give them Jewish treats and on Easter, my neighbor would hide eggs so we could find them.”
Still, Poppy was clear about her desire to connect with her heritage: “I didn’t know any Jewish kids, but I sought out Judaism, because I knew that’s what I was. I wanted to know my people. So I joined the Jewish Center in Oakland by myself as a teenager. I wanted to be what I was.”
She was clear about another thing: “I’ve never been religious, but I wanted to marry a Jewish guy. I just instinctively felt that way.”
And that’s just what she did. Poppy met Eddie Finston at the Berkeley Jewish Community Center at the age of 15. She married at 19 and shortly after, they moved to Marin. “When I first saw it — back then we came with car ferries — I told Eddie, ‘my God, it’s gorgeous here! Why did we wait so long?’”
Once again, Poppy found herself in a predominantly gentile community. Poppy and Eddie joined Rodef Sholom back when it was housed in a Christian building, with a temporary Rabbi, before Rabbi Berenbom was hired.
What was the Jewish community of Marin back when she moved her? “Well, Rodef was in a Christian building with a temporary Rabbi, the one before they hired Rabbi Berenbom. Marin was very non-Jewish at the time, so we joined so we could found out who the Jews were!”
In those early days of Rodef, Poppy describes the growing pains of a Jewish community. “Well, there was a gentle war between the very religious and the people who wanted a Jewish temple but wanted it to be modern. So the conflict kind of got people active - taking sides,” she said with a laugh.
Poppy also became deeply involved in Hadassah, and served as president for two years. “When I first started, I was uncomfortable with the fact that it is a Zionist organization. But over time, I realized how important Israel was for our people.”
Poppy and Eddie had three kids and enjoyed a long and very happy marriage. “We were together for 66 1/2 years. Don’t forget the half! He was such a fun guy, such a great guy.”
Today, Poppy still enjoys life in her home with her dog, Shayna Maidela. She has a weekly bridge game and enjoys frequent visits with her and her many friends and family, including children and great grandchildren.
If Poppy had to share advice with the world, it would be this: “Treat others as you want to be treated. If all of us would do that, we’d have a better world.” And the other ingredient for a good life, according to Poppy? “A good family and a lot of love. If you have that, you have everything.”