Attitude and Gratitude: Chapter Thirty

On January 14, 1956, Hilda and I were privileged to celebrate our first born’s Bar Mitzva. The weekly portion of the Torah was Vaayrah which describes the first five plagues visited upon the Egyptians. After the Torah portion is read, a congregant is called up to the Torah to chant the Haftorah– a portion of the Prophets. Although at my Bar Mitzva it was not the custom for the celebrant to chant the Torah portion and I did not do so, the young man reaching adulthood did usually read aloud the Haftorah which I did.

Later on, many Bar Mitzva boys who were capable did read both the Torah portion and the Haftorah and Kenny did so admirably. His pronunciation of each word and his cantillation was flawless. Hilda and I were not at all surprised since he was a top student at Yeshiva Rambam and at his graduation on June 20 he delivered the valedictory address and received recognition of excellence in several subjects. In the evening, we had a fairly large reception in the catering hall of the Kingsway Jewish Center.

After his graduation, we enrolled him at the Yeshiva University High School at Bedford and Church Avenues. A week prior to the school semester, I received a phone call from the executive director of the Yeshiva requesting that I come to the school on the following Sunday morning; I having no idea why he wanted to see me. When I arrived, I saw many parents sitting outside the director’s office and they, being more experienced than I, informed me that the reason for our being called was to make financial arrangements regarding tuition. When my turn arrived, I was ushered into the office and, sure enough, he asked me how much I could afford or wished to pay for my son’s education.

I had never experienced this request when I enrolled my two sons at Yeshiva Rambam. I then asked him what the regular tuition was and he responded that the figure was $500 per year which I immediately accepted. I still remember the startled look on his face and he, being an honest man, told me that I was one of very few parents who would pay that amount. He also told me that he knew the financial status of many of the parents who could well afford the standard tuition and much more but would plead poverty and pay much less.

On July 3, 1956, Hilda had the misfortune to experience the first death in her immediate family. Her sister, Esther, who had been living in Baton Rouge, La. for many years with her husband, Joe Saltz, a native of that city, and with her two young daughters, Nancy and Diane, succumbed to that dreadful disease, cancer of the bronchus. She had been coughing for quite some time and whether she was misdiagnosed or neglected to seek medical advice sooner, I really don’t know. Perhaps, when one’s time is up, there is very little that you can do.

A few years prior to her death when we visited Baton Rouge, I remember clearly stating to Hilda that, considering all the chemical and oil splitting plants located there, it was a miracle that the inhabitants did not contract lung cancer. At that time, environmental control was unknown and, viewing the many smokestacks belching multi-colored smoke, rang a bell in my mind since I, as a young child, watched my uncle Dovid, who lived on the same street as Pfizer Chemical, die of lung cancer.

After Esther was informed of her ailment, she came up to N.Y. to corroborate the findings and, unfortunately, it was positive. She stayed with Chippy in Florida in the winter and in Irvington-on-the Hudson in the summer. During the last six months of her life, while in her terminal state of the illness, she and her children lived with us while Joe stayed in Baton Rouge, working for his father in an Army & Navy supplies store.

Since Kenny’s room had 2 beds, she could have slept in that room; however since she would have to walk up a flight of stairs to reach the bedroom, we decided to buy a large, comfortable folding bed and place it in the living room. This is where she stayed for the entire time while “convalescing” in our home; I am using that term loosely because instead of convalescing she kept deteriorating physically with increased pain.

When New Year’s Eve arrived, there was no question in our mind that we would leave her and attend a party elsewhere. Since we knew the love and devotion our friends had for us and Esther, as well, we didn’t hesitate to invite them to our house for a “happy and enjoyable” evening. Our six dearest friends, Sylvia and Dave Lupkin, Anita and Jack Walker, and Bertie and Bob Judd did not hesitate for one moment in accepting our invitation, knowing full well that the festive mood would necessarily be impeded by staring at a once beautiful woman changing rapidly into a pain-plagued human being.

Despite her severe pain, Esther kept smiling and joining us, while still lying in her bed, in having a wonderful time. I took motion pictures of the night’s activities showing all six of us dancing and singing. In fact, during the entire time that Esther was with us, Anita and Sylvia would visit our home almost daily to see her; Dave also came frequently to perform a very great mitzvah of visiting the sick.

I still cannot forgive myself for a very stupid act that I committed a few days prior to her demise. Esther had been going downhill quite rapidly and gangrene was setting into her legs with its accompanying severe pain. On one Saturday afternoon, her condition necessitated our calling her oncologist who, when advised by us that her legs had taken on a weird color, immediately informed us to call for an ambulance to take her to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan where he would see her.

When the ambulance arrived and she was carried by stretcher, I should have gone with her to the hospital, the Sabbath notwithstanding. However, perhaps due to the shock or trauma connected with her imminent death, I lost all capacity for thinking clearly and allowed her to be taken alone to the hospital. Unfortunately, that was the last time that I saw my sister-in-law alive as two days later she was taken out of her misery. To this day, I cannot forget this folly perpetrated by me. I only wish and hope that she forgave me.

Since she passed away a day prior to the July 4 holiday, and the normal burial would have taken place on the holiday, we discovered that a union holiday prevented the grave-diggers from working; consequently, the body was put on ice and the burial was performed on the 5th of July.

My brother-in-law Al several days later, while we were in Irvington, informed me that he and Chippy wanted to take Nancy and Diane to live with and be raised by them. The girls and our two boys were then in camp. I told him that no father would give up his children after the mother’s death and that Joe would probably hire a nanny to help rear them. Al responded: “Just wait and see.” About 2 weeks later on a Saturday afternoon in Irvington, Al asked me to accompany him and Joe to an area on the estate and be witness to his asking Joe for the children. Believe it or not, after Al made his suggestion, I had never seen anybody so relieved as was Joe. No mention was made of the fact that Chip and Al had not been blessed with children; but I would guess that may have been one motive for the offer.

In the same year, 1956, Sam Silverman, who was the lawyer for the Moskovits family and for several of my nursing home clients, suggested that I join the Town Club where he was a member. Besides being a possible source of enhancing my practice, he felt that I would enjoy the various activities that were provided by the club. Knowing that I liked imbibing in alcoholic beverages, he informed me that there was a group of members who participated in a unit called “The Wednesday-Nighters”. Besides the regular dues, joining this group required an additional surcharge to cover the liquor, canapés and service. The membership consisted primarily of Jews, having a handful of non-Jews and among its members was Nat Holman, a legend in collegiate basketball. Among the celebrities who were members were Attorney-General Lefkowitz and many Supreme Court Judges.

I liked his suggestion and became a member of the club and the other group. I paid an initiation fee which was for a building fund and the annual dues. During the first year of my membership, the club was located in the East 40’s, renting space in a small building. After one year, a building was purchased on East 86th Street, about 150 feet off Fifth Avenue and Central Park.

The edifice had been the town house of a socialite named Woodward who was shot and killed by his wife, ostensibly by accident. She was never arrested nor convicted because of her claim that she thought he was a burglar and shot him in the dark. He was a very wealthy sportsman owning a large stable of race horses and an accomplished polo player.

The building was beautiful consisting of 4 stories and a large basement which contained the swimming pool, sauna, solarium, several massage rooms and other health club amenities. The “Wednesday-Nighters” met on this floor adjacent to the pool; all dressed in robes drinking and eating and enjoying each other’s company. A typical Wednesday night would have about thirty members present, although the group consisted of at least 100 members.

The first floor housed the entrance, reception office where you signed in, gave your wallet and valuables to be placed in safe deposit box, locker room where you undressed and placed your clothing in lockers and a meeting room for any guests that were invited.

On the second floor was a very large and magnificent room where the bar and party room was situated and a well-stocked library. The spacious dining room and lounge were on the third floor and the card rooms were on the fourth floor. Hilda joined me many evenings at the club where we dined together with the other members and their spouses. When I went to play poker, she would retire to the library and indulge in conversation with the other women. I remained a member for 19 years and resigned in June 1975 when we purchased a condo in Tower 41 in Miami Beach. In retrospect, I regret that I made this move of resigning since I enjoyed those years immensely.

In 1957, I began a 33 year business relationship with Anne Lehman, Al’s sister, and her husband, Freddy. They engaged me as their accountant at Bristle Trading Corp. a company that imported hair bristles from China. I replaced a nice young man who was the brother of Zero Mostel, the comedian. This firm lasted for 1 year and the Lehmans went into the philatelic business representing several African and Asian governments i.e Ghana, Togo, Maldive Islands and others.

Due to their contacts with the Ministries of Communication of some African nations as a result of their philatelic representations, the Lehmans entertained the idea in 1976 of supplying these third world countries with telecommunications that were sorely lacking in those areas. Freddy would spend a good part of the year in Africa selling the idea to the governments.

In essence, contracts would be signed with the Ministry in charge of communications and the Lehmans would then sign contracts with usually European suppliers of this equipment. Their compensation was in the form of commissions. Each of the Lehmans employed their best talents in creating a very successful enterprise; Freddy as retaining excellent contacts with the foreign officials and Anne possessing a very astute mind in writing and interpreting contracts. Of course, legal professionals were engaged in drafting the contracts but Anne actually instructed the lawyers in this task.

When Dennis was 9 years of age in 1957, he became extremely bored with his academic career at Yeshiva Rambam and created an atmosphere in his classroom which was not very conducive to learning. He would crack jokes and make his fellow students laugh and his Rebbi or secular teacher exasperated.

In fact he was so well admired by his classmates that he was able to form the “Hendrixian Society”; Hendrix was the name given by Dennis to a very large green stuffed frog given to him as a gift. Being very resourceful and practical, Dennis printed membership cards of this society having as its logo a picture of Hendrix. Almost every member of his class joined and paid him 25 cents annual dues. Many years later, when my niece, Diane, met her date at my home, the young man took his membership card out of his wallet and displayed it proudly to us.

Despite his popularity with his classmates, the teachers were understandably annoyed at my son’s behavior and would send him to the principal’s office almost daily. The women in the office would await anxiously for his arrival as he made them laugh. I have heard Dennis remark on his radio program that the women established “The Dennis Prager Chair” in his honor. Rabbi Lefkowitz, of whom I have written previously, would call me at the office quite frequently to give me the bad news about my son’s behavior. Perhaps, because I was the vice-president and auditor of Rambam, he never suggested my taking Dennis out of his school.

When parent-teacher evenings occurred each semester, we did not look forward to these events as the reports were always depressing. Also, my poor son went into a fearful state a few days before the meeting. When he reached the 7th grade at the age of 12, Hilda and I felt that, perhaps, a change of venue would rectify the situation. Since Dennis would always be greeted by a new teacher with the words “Oh, you are Elimelach’s brother. I am sure that you will equal his accomplishments.” They surely did not take Education 101. The worst thing a teacher can do is to compare his pupil with his sibling.

I certainly do not absolve myself for the gross error in placing Dennis in the same school as Kenny. I should have been wise enough to realize that since Kenny was an exceptional student and athlete, he should have gone to a different yeshiva. To compound my stupidity, I enrolled him in Winsocki where Kenny was the lead actor in the annual plays and the best athlete.

Because of the above, we decided to send him to Yeshiva Yaacov Yoseph on the Lower East Side. Every morning, including Sundays, I would drive him to the subway station on Kings Highway and McDonald Ave. Lo and behold, after a few weeks at his new school, phone calls would be made to my office by Rabbi Schwartz advising me of his behavior. I really was in a dilemma as to what action to take. When Dennis informed me several months later that students had been beaten by young hoodlums in that area, I decided to reenroll him in Rambam at the end of the year.

As Yogi Berra would say “Deja Vu, All Over Again,” Rabbi Lefkowitz and I resumed our phone conversations. Prior to his graduation from Rambam, the subject of high school arose and I wanted to enroll him in the Mir Yeshiva which was in the neighborhood. This yeshiva was definitely more to the right than Rambam. When Kenny heard of this proposal, he wisely informed me that my choice would assuredly make matters worse and we would lose our son.

We took Kenny’s advice and enrolled him in Yeshiva of Flatbush. During his freshman year, I received phone calls from the principal, Rabbi Lieberman repeating what the previous two principals told me.

Hilda and were at wits end and completely lost as to what options we had in raising our son. I have heard Dennis remark many times on his radio program, when speaking of this episode in his life, that a teacher at Rambam advised me as to the course of action that I eventually took. I dislike correcting my son, but his statement is erroneous.

The truth is as follows: since I always have a brief conversation with my spiritual Father before falling asleep, one night full of anguish and pain, I implored him to guide me in the correct parental path I should take with Dennis. Believe it or not, I awoke the following morning with a modus operandi. A day or two later, I sat Dennis down in my home office and the two of us were alone. I remember, as though it happened yesterday, the exact words that poured from my mouth.

I told him that, as his father, I loved him and will always love him. However, respect has to be earned and I could not respect his actions. I then took a risk in informing him that from that moment on, the word “school” would be taboo in our home. I would never ask him if he had homework, what his grades were, and, in fact, did not have to attend school.

From that moment on, he made a 360 degree turn in his academic life. What he needed was a hands-off approach from his parents that automatically eliminated the severe tension that had been building up throughout his school years. His grades improved substantially, he was elected president of his senior class and was editor of the year-book.

Not being a psychologist, I cannot state definitely why Dennis behaved in the manner that he did. However, my guess is that since he feared not living up to his brother’s achievements, he preferred attributing any low grades that he may receive in the future to his poor behavior rather than being accused of stupidity.

In 1958, I received another client called Saxony Paper Co. which was in a store in 15 Park Row where my office was located. I would buy my stationary supplies from Saxony and one day the proprietors asked me if I would become their accountant; of course, I accepted as I didn’t reject any sources of income. I remained with them until 1984 when the company dissolved.

That same year, Hilda and I got the urge to visit Havana with Chippy and engage in a bit of gambling at one of its casinos. We thought it would be enjoyable to spend New Year’s Eve in Cuba. We chose the Nacional Hotel and checked in 2 days prior to the New Year. We spent several hours in the casino on New Year’s Eve and when we returned to our rooms around 2 a.m., we discovered that our beds were not made up and not cleaned. I, therefore, went down to the lobby to complain after receiving no answer on the phone. To my dismay, I did not see any employees in the entire hotel.

There were a few guests milling around the lobby as perplexed as we were and in a few moments we ascertained the reason for the mystery; Fidel Castro and his deputy Che Guavera successfully revolted against Batista’s government. On the following morning, we went to the airport to return to Miami. Fortunately, we boarded the last plane out of Cuba.

My friends, Dave and Fay Hammerman who had also been vacationing in Cuba could not leave for close to a week.

In October 1959, Kenny was selected as one of the representatives of the Yeshiva High School students in New York City to be a delegate to the Albany Youth Conference convened by Governor Rockefeller. He was selected by Dr. Alvin Schiff, the head of the Jewish Education Committee of New York. A few months later, he was chosen as the only yeshiva student in the U.S. to represent all the nation’s yeshivas at the White House Conference on Children and Youth. I would describe these events as true “yiddishe nachas”

Kenny graduated from Yeshiva University High School of Brooklyn in June 1960 receiving the following honors: Excellence in English, Excellence in General Science, and Excellence in French. Also, he received awards for service as G.O. President and Editor of “Kolenu”, the Hebrew newspaper. In one of the articles he wrote, which was supposed to be humorous, he mentioned his Rebbi, Rabbi Yogel, in a manner which was not appreciated by the Rabbi and to demonstrate his pique, he refused to call upon Kenny in his class and ignored him completely.

I do not recall whether Kenny apologized for his action in demeaning his Rebbi, but I felt that since I was paying tuition for my son’s education, the punishment was not in order. I asked for an appointment with Rabbi Zuroff, the Hebrew principal, to express my displeasure at having Kenny sitting in his class as a “persona non-grata”. As I expected, Rabbi Zuroff, not being a very forceful person, listened to me and did nothing.

At the commencement exercises, I noticed Rabbi Yogel congratulating Kenny with a broad smile; thus, displaying his complete forgiveness which made my son and his parents very happy. деньги до зарплаты ярославль