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Jewish Journal

When Henri Met Shirley

by Mike Levy

August 30, 2001 | 8:00 pm

A long time ago in a Jewish neighborhood far, far away, Shirley Lowenthal and Henrietta "Henri" Diamond were best friends and neighbors.

In 1930s Boyle Heights, the two young girls played together in adjoining front yards on the 600 block of Mott Street, "like two little monkeys," they recalled.

The two little monkeys moved out of Boyle Heights and grew up. Henri Diamond married Bill Goldsmith and, when she began a career as a singer, changed her name to the more bohemian-sounding Henriette.

Shirley Lowenthal also changed her name. "When I was small," she says, "the Jewish parents didn't want to make their girls seem too Jewish by calling them Sara. So all the girls were called Shirley. I had no individuality." As a teen, she changed her name to Jan, and later became Jan Chamot.

Seventy years later, both Henriette Goldsmith of Encino and Jan Chamot of Woodland Hills joined "The Friendship Circle," a group of single ladies who met once a month in members' homes. They read stories together, discussed books, even had a karaoke night with Goldsmith on the guitar. After a few months, they got to talking about childhood.

"One of the ladies who got me into the group had heard that Henriette also lived in Boyle Heights," says Chamot, "What happens when you meet people from Boyle Heights is, they ask you, 'Where did you live?'"

Goldsmith continues the story: "When she said, 'I also lived on Mott Street,' I asked, What was your maiden name? 'Lowenthal,' she said. The Lowenthals lived right next door to us!" she told Chamot. "I knew a Shirley Lowenthal!"

There was dead silence. Then Chamot said, "I'm Shirley Lowenthal! I changed my name from Shirley to Jan!"

And that is the true story of how two Jewish neighbor girls from Boyle Heights found each other after seven decades apart and eight months together.

"We still see each other at the Friendship Circle meetings," Goldsmith says, "and we reminisce."

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