During the Vietnam War, Kenny opted to join the Public Health Service and although he applied to be stationed in Alaska, he was sent to a Sioux Indian reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D. He arrived in June 1969 and was given a lovely house on the reservation about 150 yards from the hospital.
The other physicians on the reservation, all serving in PHS, were George Potter with his wife Susan and their young child, Leslie; Jimmy with Margo Strasberg, both doctors serving the second year of their stint in Eagle Butte. The other physicians beginning the first year of their 2 year stay were Bob with Sara Dickman who was pregnant and Kenny and Jeannie.
On August 2, 1969, our first grandchild was born. Since there were no obstetricians on the reservation, Dr. Bowe at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital recommended Dr. Theissen in a Rapid City hospital to perform the delivery. Kenny drove his pregnant wife 180 miles to the hospital, fearing all the way that Jeannie would give birth in the car.
When Jeannie asked to go to a rest room in Mud Butte, 80 miles from their destination, Kenny was sure that the moment had arrived and that he would have to deliver his child. Fortunately, his fears were allayed when Jeannie returned to the car and stated that she just had to relieve herself.
When we were notified that Jeannie had given birth, we and Claire immediately flew to Rapid City via Minneapolis to help Jeannie with our granddaughter, Karen. When we arrived at the hospital to take the mother and child home and I held our new gift of God, I cannot describe my emotion and tremendous joy that enveloped me.
Six months after Karen was born, our children asked us if Hilda and I would care to accompany them on a skiing trip to Colorado; of course, we accepted immediately. We flew to Denver where we met them and we all proceeded to Winter Park where we stayed at a ski lodge. Hilda and I attempted to ski and after 2 attempts, we realized our gross ineptitude in that sport. Jeannie also tried her hand at it and gave up after several trials. Kenny, however, took to it as a professional and kept going up on the lift to be able to ski down the hills.
Believe it or not, we took Karen with us and our presence gave our children the opportunity to be able to do things on their own while we baby-sat. We had a grand time and Karen behaved magnificently.
One day, Hilda and I decided to try to drive a snowmobile into the mountains. Unfortunately, while quite a distance from the lodge, the snowmobile broke down in the midst of a snow storm. Instead of feeling in distress, we broke out in great laughter and exclaimed: “We should have remained in Brooklyn; this is not for us.” Fortunately, several minutes later we were rescued by an employee of the lodge who constantly kept driving around to give aid to those in trouble.
Next day, the four of us again decided to explore the environs and each couple rented a snowmobile. Jeannie decided to take pictures of us and the magnificent scenery. As she got off her mobile, she disappeared completely. After a while, we called her and didn’t receive any response. This time we were scared and started to look for her. After a while we saw her in a 10 foot hole in the snow into which she had fallen. Being no more than 5 feet tall, she wisely pulled her 2 legs together to diminish her fall so that Kenny, being 6 feet 4 inches tall and possessed with long arms was able to pull her out; again, we started to laugh.
We all had a great time and spent the Shabbat in Denver at a hotel. When the time came to leave, I can still remember how I sobbed saying good-bye to my first grand-child.
In 1969, I was able to obtain 3 more clients. The first was Lily Pond Nursing Home whose engagement started in March. The home was located in Staten Island and owned by Jacob Rozenberg and his wife Miriam who was a niece of Aron Maged. Besides our relationship of client and accountant, we became fast friends and we participated with them in each other’s simchas (happy occasions).
Jacob died after a short bout with cancer in June 1993. Miriam continued running the home with the aid of her two daughters. After 30 years, I began to be fatigued traveling to Staten Island from Englewood and having difficulty in parking my car several blocks from the Home; I decided to resign as their accountant.
In April 1969, I was engaged by the University Nursing Home located in the north Bronx on University Avenue. The Home was leased to William (Velvel) and Eva (Chavi) Spiegel. Hilda and I met them in 1947 after the war when they immigrated from the concentration camps and were taken into the home of the Moskovits family on President Street in Brooklyn.
Velvel was the nephew of Philip Moskovits, Al’s father and Chavi was also a relative of the Moskovits family. We got to know them more intimately when they moved together with the Moskovits’s to Irvington-on-the Hudson. I related previously the many enjoyable visits our family made to Irvington. Of all of Al’s relatives, except for Zanny, we are the closest to Velvel and Chavi to this day.
In 1987, I decided to give up my office on Park Row and work out of my home. Since my clients rarely came to my office, I saw no need to travel daily to lower Manhattan from Brooklyn. In addition to saving 2 hours a day in travel, fighting traffic in the morning and evening, paying $ 15 for parking, I was able to save quite a bit of money not having to incur office expenses i.e. rent, utilities and a secretary.
I still had my associate, Leon Goldberg, work with me. As he lived on Ocean Parkway, a few miles from my home, I was able to pick him up at his home daily to visit our clients. This was necessary because Leon could not drive a car due to an eye affliction. Now attaining the age of 69, I made the decision to cease taking on new clients and allowing my practice to diminish gradually.
I relate the above because University was my last client where auditing was necessary. When University sold their Home in 2002 after being their accountant for 33 years, I retired at the age of 84
However, I still retain a small tax practice servicing several widows of ex-clients and my family.
The third client I obtained in 1969 was a manufacturer of ladies garments in Miami. The firm’s name was Double Talk and the partners were Al and Joel Rosner, Zanny’s father. This was my first of many clients that I was able to obtain in Florida. After 2 years, Double Talk went out of business.
In December 1969, a terrible tragedy occurred when Joel Rosner, while driving on the causeway over Biscayne Bay separating Miami from Miami Beach, drove his car into the bay and died instantly. Although no one knew why this happened, I speculate that Joel, who had occasionally suffered black-out episodes in Brazil which I witnessed, possibly could have blacked-out while driving.
A year later, Danny Retter, an attorney and the son-in-law of Rappi, gave me five small senior hotels in Miami Beach as clients. He was one of the partners and the lawyer for all of them. He renovated them and then gradually sold them; so I serviced them for several years.
Another Florida client that I obtained that year was Reva Knitting Mills owned by Zanny. Polyester fabric was in vogue and many textile firms purchased knitting machines for the production of this material. Women’s dress wear and men’s clothing utilized this fabric to a great extent as it was washable and didn’t have to be pressed.
Reva lasted till 1975 and Zanny, knowing the textile business very well, formed Intertex Trading Corp. that exported textile machinery, parts and thread to companies in South and Central America. His ability to speak Portuguese fluently, having lived in Brazil, was a big help in speaking Spanish. He made frequent trips to these customers and his business has flourished to this day.
Another client I secured in 1970 was Hillcrest Nursing Home in Lakewood, N.J. which was owned by Aron Maged and his niece and nephew, Fanny and Geza Kaszirer. I was the accountant till 1979 when the home was sold. What I observed at this home was enlightening to me. Lakewood, being the home of Beth Medrosh Givhoa, an Orthodox yeshiva, had a large number of young married men who sat all day and learned Torah, while their wives were working in various jobs. All of Hillcrest’s feminine employees were wives of these kolel students.
Dennis graduated from Brooklyn College in June 1970, majoring in Anthropology and History. In July he was selected as a delegate to the World Youth Assembly which was opened by the chairman of the UN’s 25th Anniversary. This gathering brought together many international youth groups from 130 nations. For ten days the young people were able to air their views and work up some original proposals that the Un General Assembly was pledged to consider.
In an article written by the assistant director of the UN Office of the Bnai Brith International Council, he stated: “But, the star of the West was the representative of Bnai Brith Hillel, Dennis Prager, 21, of Brooklyn. Challenging the Soviets, Prager led a spontaneous walk-out of the Peace Commission when the Moscow-Cairo group, couched by members of their regular UN delegations, refused to allow Vietnamese and Chinese participants to speak.
Prager suddenly rose, 6’4” tall, and above the din of the desk-pounding cried out that all who wanted to protest the violation of democratic principles should follow him out of the room. About 30 did so. Although their actions did not necessarily reflect political sympathy with those who were excluded, under Prager’s leadership, they effectively demonstrated their commitment to the democratic way.
The next morning Prager appeared at the Education Commission and delivered a speech on the cultural deprivations suffered by Soviet Jewry. Back in the Peace Commission, he participated in an exchange which earned for him the reputation as the only man to embarrass the Russians.
At noon a day later, Prager called a press conference at which he presented a declaration signed by 40 delegations protesting “the cynical attempts to manipulate the conference by representatives of the Soviet-East European bloc and representatives of the undemocratic left.” During the final plenary debate, Prager withstood the threats and jeers of the Moscow-Cairo mob and demanded a vote on the validity of their one-sided Peace Commission report. When that was denied, the Jewish students worked to insert an amendment in the Soviet inspired final message to the UN General Assembly. Their single success came when the plenum, by a vote of 271-115 agreed to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and demand the restoration of democracy to that country.”
My son, Dennis, at the age of 21, already was a staunch fighter against totalitarianism, communism and the injustice perpetrated against his co-religionists in the Soviet Union. He began a strong campaign for Soviet Jewry by speaking constantly against “the evil empire.” I cannot express in words the tremendous pride that I have for my son to this day. Perhaps his strong desire for justice emanates from his home or perhaps it stems from his unflinching faith in his religion which teaches in the Torah the words txedek txede tirdof (run after justice). Or perhaps it’s from both; who knows?
Writing of the pride we have in our younger son, I can now state how Hilda and I were blessed to have two sons who exemplify all that is good in this world. Their respect for us and all mankind is engrained in their soul. Their strong religiosity is their code in fulfilling good deeds bein odom l’mokom- bein odom l’chavaro (between man and God-between man and his fellow man.) In the coming pages of these memoirs, I will write more fully regarding Kenny’s many accomplishments.
In June 1970, the two physicians that arrived in Eagle Butte to replace the others who had completed their 2 year stay were Bruce Schneider who came with his wife Susan and their son Benjy and Michael who came with his wife Ruth. The entire medical staff at the hospital now consisted of four Jews and the dentist was also of the same faith. I am sure that the Indians at the reservation were of the opinion that most Jews were doctors.
Our third trip to South Dakota was in September 1970 when we spent the Labor Day holiday with our children. We enjoyed our stay immensely because of the Labor Day parade and the Indian songs and dances at a pow-wow.
I would now like to describe the difficulty in traveling from Brooklyn to Eagle Butte. We flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens via United Air Lines to Minneapolis and then switched to North West Air Lines to land in Pierre, South Dakota. Then we rented a car traveling 90 miles over horrible roads to the reservation.
For about 5 or 6 years prior to 1970, I was asked by the powers that be at Kingsway to accept the presidency and I kept refusing them. Finally, I remember sitting at the Shabbos table and asking my wife and 2 sons to vote on the proposal of becoming the president of Kingsway Jewish Center. This demonstrates the democratic procedures followed in the Prager household.
I asked my family in reverse order of age their opinion. Dennis opined that I would make a good president and that I owed it to the community. Kenny elaborated more along the same line and stated that I always spoke about communal duties and therefore I could not refuse to serve; then, came Hilda’s turn to speak. If I remember correctly, she was quite ambivalent and gave reasons to accept and reject the offer. Since the vote was 2 in favor and 1 abstention, I decided to become president.
I was elected president without any opposition in June 1970. The installation of officers took place in the synagogue on a Shabbos morning and we were invested by Rabbi Chill. The following is my acceptance speech given that morning:
My dear friends,
The question that is being posed today by most people is, why would anyone want to be president of the U.S. or Mayor of a city like New York or even president of a religious institution? The headaches and heartaches that are concomitant with these positions would normally frighten any individual from accepting leadership. However, if one has a desire to help his fellowman; to live not by bread alone; and especially if the flame of Judaism pervades his being, he cannot with clear conscience reject the challenge.
I, for one, am a great proponent of constructive criticism and feel that progress can only be achieved as a result of critically analyzing the daily problems that beset humanity as a whole, and Judaism specifically.
Rhetoric alone has never proved to be either meaningful or fruitful. If action results from criticism however, the profuse verbiage that permeates our everyday living is productive.
To criticize and not to act is virtually criminal, and in matters dealing with Judaism it is actually sacrilegious. As the Rabbis wisely stated: “It is not the thought which is of essence, but action.” Thus, in his span of life, one must decide whether he goes with the verbal tide or accepts a challenge to attempt to make our lives more spiritually meaningful.
The tragedies that befall fine, upstanding families in our society must make us stop for a moment and ask ourselves the question: “What has gone wrong with our Jewish children and what can we do to correct the situation?” We must divert the paths of our children who are headed for a ruinous life, not only for themselves, but for society and our people.
I am sure you are all aware, that statistically speaking, children who have been reared in traditionally religious homes and who have attended yeshivas, generally speaking, have been able to withstand the temptations that constantly lurk in the shadows to entrap them.
Establishing yeshivas, maintaining synagogues with strong religious content and, last but not least, instilling in the home a meaningful religious experience between the parents and the children are all ingredients of producing good Americans and devoted Jews.
What I am saying, perhaps may appear to be echoing sentiments expressed many, many times by our religious and communal leaders; but, the mere repetition of these words does not detract one iota from their validity and their significance.
The Jewish people who are the legatees of a proud and noble heritage and have been bestowed by the Almighty with the most precious gift mankind has ever received; namely, the Torah, have dissipated this legacy. Just as a son who has inherited great wealth from his father and has squandered it without benefiting either himself or mankind, so too the Jewish people, unfortunately, have been squandering the spiritual fortune that they received at Mt. Sinai.
Stimulating sermons and symphonic songs in the liturgy do not in themselves make a synagogue distinguished. The yardstick to be employed in measuring the accomplishments of a synagogue should be its competence in reaching and communicating with its youth. The Synagogue that is content to cater to its adult congregants, but neglects to take into account the needs and desires of its youth is committing an unpardonable sin.
I believe that we cannot place too much emphasis on our youth activities and all our efforts should be directed towards keeping our children from straying from the synagogue. To bring them back to Judaism is much more difficult once they have left and our task is to make them want to stay.
To this end the new administration pledges itself; but the success to be achieved will be measured by the amount of cooperation you people wish to give the leadership. Without your energetic labors, the best laid plans will be doomed to failure.
Kingsway Jewish Center, within the last few years, has been fortunate in attracting young married couples who can be the embryo of a synagogue second to none. I personally have had the good fortune to meet with these young people and they have impressed me with their strong sense of yiddishkeit and with their desire to work for Judaism. I hope to continue to meet with them in the very near future so that they can transmit to me their ideas and suggestions which will always find an open ear.
As you are all aware, Kingsway is presently embarking on a new project; namely, the construction of a building which will be used exclusively by our Kingsway Yeshiva Academy. We have, thank God, increased our enrollment to such an extent that our present facilities which house the Yeshiva, the Talmud Torah and the nursery are inadequate.
I, therefore, appeal to you to give the new administration strong financial help so that we can open the new edifice for registration in February of the coming year. This is not an appeal for Kingsway, but a request to help Jewry specifically. Even more so, your contributions will be an investment in the future of our Jewish youth, and who knows, perhaps the money you give today will directly help your own child or your own grandchild stay on the path of righteousness and not become a casualty of the age.
I want to publicly state at this time that every committee of Kingsway is wide open and anyone expressing a desire to help by being placed on these committees would be more than welcomed by me. I would suggest that they contact me as soon as possible since the committees will be formed in the very near future.
I wish to express my gratitude to all of you for the trust and confidence that you have placed in me to lead Kingsway for the coming year. Whether I will be successful or not, only time will tell; but you can rest assured that a diligent and sincere effort will be made by me to instill Kingsway Jewish Center with dynamism without which no institution can maintain its prominence.
As I read this acceptance speech 34 years later, I am amazed how relevant these words are today especially pertaining to the large amount of secular Jewish youth who are more interested in pro-choice, the environment and affirmative action than in the survival of the Jewish people and the survival of the Jewish State of Israel.
Jeannie and Kenny in December 1970 asked us to baby-sit for Karen as they wanted to go to Minneapolis to visit Anna Marie a classmate of Jeannie in Radcliff; so we made our fourth trip to Eagle Butte. We were well compensated for our schlepping to South Dakota again as the five days that we were there were closest to Nirvana that one could imagine.
Our precious granddaughter behaved beautifully giving us enjoyment that cannot be described. In the morning we brought her into our bed and amid kisses and hugs we hesitated to leave the bed. It is amazing that at no time in the lives of our two sons did we ever bring them into our bed. I have always said that the love for children becomes progressively greater with each successive generation.
I now can recall that most of my clients and friends constantly showed me pictures of their grandchildren and never displayed photos of their children. Now that we have Noah, our great-grandson, the joy of having him in our family transcends all the emotions that we had previously relative to our progeny.
While our children were away and we had Karen to ourselves, she did not miss her parents and took to us as a fish to water. As I would sit in an easy chair and read, I would have my scotch highball resting on the floor near me. Karen would sidle over to the glass, stick her finger into the liquor, lick her finger and come back for more. In addition to the liquor, she loved the ice.
We brought her a large rubber animal toy which she loved. She kept hitting the toy and it would rebound and hit her which made her laugh hysterically. To this day, she and I have an unusually close relationship imbued with love and mutual respect.
Jeannie was now pregnant with her second child and expected to deliver sometime in April 1971. Hilda and I, accompanied by Claire decided to enjoy the Passover holiday with our children. Believe it or not, we took along Schubert, our cat. For some reason, we couldn’t connect with a flight out of Minneapolis so we stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn in that city. Schubert, the moment he arrived at the motel, hid under our bed and didn’t come out until we left.
On the second Seder night after we concluded the chanting of the Haggadah, Jeannie remarked to Kenny that she was ready to deliver. I can still remember the utter calm that she displayed at a time when most women in labor would justifiably evince pain and certainly anxiety. But, I should have not been surprised because my “daughter” was and is always gutsy. Kenny immediately took her to the hospital close by to their house and delivered his son Joshua; the date being April 11, 1971. Several hours later, we visited Jeannie and were shown our second grandchild.
When Hilda saw the birth notices that read: “Joshua was born on Easter Sunday,” she flipped and told our children not to send these notices to our friends nor members of our family since most of them were Orthodox Jews.
Eight days later the age-old ceremony of the bris (circumcision) arrived. As we say in football, the term “triple threat” could be applied to Kenny. He produced together with Jeannie his son, brought him into this world via delivery and performed the circumcision. The tradition in Judaism is that the father is obligated to execute this act. However, the majority of Jewish fathers are not capable of performing this mitzvah (good deed); therefore a mohel is engaged who is a professional who has been taught this medical procedure.
Kenny, always perspiring like his father, was handed large towels by his fellow physicians while circumcising his son. Although he had performed this procedure many times in the past, evidently, when one does this on his own son, the anxiety and perhaps fear of hurting his flesh and blood causes profuse sweating. At any rate, regardless of Kenny’s discomfort, everything went according to Hoyle and Joshua is grateful to his father for a job well done.
In February of this year, Dennis represented the U.S. at the World Conference of Soviet Jewry in Brussels. After graduating from Brooklyn College he enrolled in the Russian and Middle East Institute at Columbia University to pursue a Masters degree. He studied under Dr. Zbigniew Brezinski who later served as head of the National Security Council in Pres. Carter’s administration. In March, he was appointed a Fellow in the School of International affairs for the 1971-1972 academic year in recognition of his outstanding academic achievement. It carried a fellowship of $ 1,000 to be used towards tuition.
Kenny completed his 2 year stint on the Eagle Butte Reservation in June 1971 and returned with Jeannie and his two children to commence his residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. They preferred the suburbs of New York and rented a house on Madison Avenue in Englewood, N.J. Since the George Washington Bridge was about 1 mile from his new abode and the hospital was right off the bridge, it was an ideal location for Kenny. Coincidentally, Hilda and I live about 100 yards from this house at the present time.
In this year, one of my clients Edmundo Rosenberg, a brother-in-law of Rappi, who owned a large ladies’ garment factory in Lima, Peru and whose realty holdings in Miami I was auditing, introduced me to his acquaintances who owned large textile plants in Lima.
They decided to immigrate to Miami and go into the polyester knitting business which was then the rage. They purchased approximately 70 knitting machines and set up a dye plant as well. The knitting operation was called Arosa Knitting Corp.; the dye plant was named Miami Dying and Finishing Corp. and the sales company of the finished textile products had the name, Victoria Fabrics Corp.
The principals of these companies were all Arabs. The president of all the firms was Miguel Atala who was originally from Ramallah, Palestine, now on the west bank of the Jordan River. He came with his wife, Isabel and his son Tali and a daughter, whose name escapes me. He left a son Miguelito in Lima to run the family business. They were all Moslems.
The treasurer of all the firms was Nicholas Saba who lived in Beit Jala, a Christian city in Palestine. He came with his wife Victoria and 2 children and with his brother Wadi, who was the secretary of the companies. Wadi came with his wife Helena and 2 children. They were all Christians.
All 3 families bought magnificent homes in Coral Gables which was a city close to Miami and was inhabited by a large Latino population.
Arabs are known for their being congenial hosts and my clients lived up to that reputation in every respect. Hilda and I were very often invited to their homes for dessert as they knew we would not eat a meal there because we kept kosher. Also, we went out socially with them; of course, we would reciprocate by inviting them to our home.
Every month when I came to audit the books of the companies, I would enter Mr. Atala’s office to say hello and have a brief conversation with him. On one of my first visits to his office, he told me that when he was leaving Peru for Florida, he was told to be sure to engage a doctor, lawyer and accountant; all of the Jewish faith.
Although he was not an anti-Semite since he had many Jewish friends and could not have been nicer to Hilda and myself, he would engage me almost monthly in a discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He, being a Moslem Arab, was a rabid defender of Arafat and a great critic of the Israeli “occupation” of his homeland.
At one of our conversations, I asked him if he knew what the Jewish population was in the U.S. I was not surprised or shocked when he stated that the answer to that question was “35-40 million.” When I replied that it was closer to 6 million, I still remember his retort: “They are all in New York.”
Despite our political, ethnic and religious differences, we got along very well in our business and social lives. The Sabas and I never discussed the Middle East; possibly because they were Christians. Due to the collapse of the fashion fad of polyester knits, in Sept. 1977 they ceased business operations and returned to Peru.
I would make my monthly trips to these plants in Opa-Locka, about 8-10 miles from Miami accompanied by either Herman Litt, my ex-partner who moved to Miami Beach from Brooklyn several years previously or Leon Goldberg, my associate. Some times, Leon and I stayed at the Doral Hotel on the Beach or a small motel near the airport.
Florida was one of the few states that required a permit for accountants to perform audits in that state. If a firm or individual did not have a permit or a Florida license, they were subject to a fine or more severe disciplinary punishment. I assume the reason for this regulation was to protect professionals working in the state. Many snow-birds migrated during the winter months southward and wanted their accountants to service them in Florida.
When I discovered the above in the winter 1974 and noticed a large building being constructed on the corner of Pine Tree Drive and Arthur Godfrey Rd. (41st Street), I decided to explore the possibility of establishing legal residence in Florida so that I could apply for a reciprocal CPA license and not having to obtain permits for each and every audit engagement.
As 4101 Pine Tree Drive (Tower 41) was still in a construction phase, the developers had a large trailer on the corner in which the rental personnel were available to sign leases. Since I was one of the first prospective lessees, I had the choice of 450 apartments. I selected an apartment on the 6th floor facing the pool area and a view of the ocean, several blocks away.
The reason I chose the 6th floor was due to the fact that there was no Sabbath elevator so I didn’t want to walk up more than 6 flights. I didn’t want a lower floor so that I could have a fairly decent view of the ocean. I signed a one year lease as that was the longest they were giving to the renters; the rent was $ 480 per month. I was permitted to live rent-free during the winter till June 1975 when the developers decided to go the route of selling condos; giving the lessees the option of buying or renting.
Never being a proponent of renting versus buying, I, naturally, opted to buy. If I had used the apartment solely as an office when I made my professional visits to Florida, I would have been able to deduct the rent as a business deduction on my income tax return. However, as Hilda resided in the apartment for a period of 3 months and sometimes we resided there during the summer months, I couldn’t take this deduction.