My Mother Gertrude Himmelfarb by Bill Kristol

Kristol, Bill, "My Mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb," Commentary, February, 2020.


My parents, Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, moved to Washington from New York in 1987. My father wrote about their move in the New Republic because, needless to say, if you’re an intellectual, you don’t just move from one city to another, as tens of millions of Americans do each year. You have to analyze and explain the significance of your move. Also needless to say, my father being my father, his article is witty and ironic. He described it as “a deep, sociological explanation of why my wife and I have decided to leave New York City and take up residence in Washington, D.C. (no one seems to credit the more obvious reasons; two children and three grandchildren).” And being from my father, the article is a perceptive and interesting—even deep—piece on New York and Washington, and American politics and culture in 1987.

But in fact, my parents said privately at the time that one of the main reasons for the move is that they thought it would help them stay younger and fresher in spirit. And recently, my mother, reflecting on the move, commented on how true that had turned out to be. Of course they enjoyed old friends of their generation, but they also very much appreciated their mostly younger friends in Washington, and they enjoyed making new ones. They treated people 25 or 50 years younger as equals and were happy to talk with them and learn from them.

And my mother was interested in even younger interlocutors; as a friend put it in an email, she “was always interested in cultural dispatches from our kids’ generation.” My wife Susan and I, my sister Liz Nelson and her husband Caleb, my cousins, and our friends all remember family gatherings and other occasions with my mother quizzing grandchildren and great-nieces and great-nephews and the children of friends on various issues of manners and morals among the younger generation.