Our lease expired on Glendale Court in August 1950 and we were not interested in renewing it. On one Sunday afternoon, all four of us went driving to look for a new home. We decided to drive along Kings Highway where new high-rise apartment buildings were being built. About one mile from our home we noticed 3 large new apt. buildings spanning 3 blocks- 27th-29th Streets. Each 4 story building faced Kings Highway. We were delighted to see a very large and beautiful synagogue in the last stages of construction on the corner of Nostrand Ave. (30th St.) and the Highway. Also, we noticed the new home of Yeshiva Rambam on the corner of 31st St. and the Highway. Although Kenny was attending Yeshiva of Flatbush, we felt it was good to know that if we moved to those new buildings that we just saw, it would be only 2 or 3 blocks from his new school, if we desired to change schools.
That very afternoon, we decided to sign a lease in 2705 Kings Highway and started a 46 year period of remaining in that immediate area. Our apartment was on the 3rd floor, not necessitating walking up as there was an elevator. The apt. consisted of 2 bedrooms, a living room and kitchen, all facing 27th St.
On August 24, two weeks after moving into our new home, I visited my father on President St. after work. He had been ailing for a few weeks complaining of feeling very weak. He had always suffered from high blood pressure, paying a double premium on his life insurance policy. Despite this infirmity, I do not remember my father ever staying home from work due to his health. My mother kept pressuring him from the age of 65 to retire and he always refused but finally consented to do so at the age of 70. His favorite expression was: “All my enemies should have to sit all day and stare at his wife,” which belied his true feelings towards my mother.
Although he was not a very big wage earner, he disliked sitting home when he felt he was capable of working. He spent his evenings and Sundays in reading the Yiddish newspapers and listening to cantorial music. At the time of this visit, he was 72 years of age. He had been hospitalized a few weeks previously for a few days, mainly for tests. His doctor was not alarmed at his physical condition and advised bed rest for a week or so.
In the midst of our conversation, my father, very calmly, told me to open a drawer in his room in which were his insurance policy and other papers he wanted me to peruse. You can just imagine my reaction to his request. I blurted out in Yiddish: “Papa, what are you talking about? You have no rhyme or reason for these thoughts. You are not that sick to be concerned about your papers.”
About 15 minutes later, I started to hear gurgling sounds in his throat and became extremely frightened because I had never heard a human emitting such sounds. I immediately went into the kitchen to tell my mother that I am going to call a friend of mine Dr. Kroop, whom I met 20 years ago when we lived on Hart St. He also went to Boys High and since his age was between Murray’s and mine, he knew us both. He was now the chief cardiologist of a small hospital on Utica Ave. which name escapes me.
When I told him over the phone about the gurgling sounds, he practically flew the few blocks from the hospital to Papa’s home. As soon as he examined my father and saw his ankles swollen with edema, he remarked that he should have been called much earlier and didn’t think Papa would survive the ambulance ride to Beth El Hospital, a half mile away.
Mama and I rode in the back of the ambulance with Papa while Dr. Kroop sat in the front with the driver. I was instructed to hold the oxygen mask over my father’s face until we arrived at the hospital. While I was doing this, I somehow felt that Papa expired since he stopped moving or showed any signs of life. Unfortunately, I was correct in my assumption because when we arrived at the hospital, Dr. Kroop pronounced him dead on arrival, noting the cause of death due to heart failure caused by a lifetime of hypertension.
On hearing this pronouncement, Mama and I burst into loud, uncontrollable sobs. Mama took his hands and began kissing them at the same time exclaiming: “These are the hands that labored for me all his life.” In retrospect, what amazes me to this day that while they were married I never saw my parents kiss. I went home with Mama and then notified the Wishkover Society where my parents had been members almost from the time they came to America. They handled all funeral and burial arrangements for their members. The undertaker was Blau Funeral Parlor on the Lower East Side and the cemetery was Beth David in Elmont, N.Y.
When the person in charge at the Society called me back advising me where and when the funeral would take place, I called my brother who was living in Schenectady to inform him of Papa’s death and the details of the funeral service. I then called all our close relatives and friends. Anne, who was living with my parents and was out for the evening was ignorant of all that was happening. When she came home, she created quite a scene; you must realize that none of us knew how sick Papa was, not being told the extent of my father’s illness by his Society’s doctors.
Upon receiving my call, Murray and Gert immediately left their home and drove to Brooklyn to join us in our mourning. The Jewish religion calls the mourner from the time of death to the time of burial an onan who, if a male, is not permitted to put on tefillin (phylacteries) on the morning before burial. He is also prohibited from saying the shachris (morning) prayers. None of us slept a wink that night and, in fact, didn’t even get undressed.
The funeral service was held around 11 a.m. and when I entered the room where my father’s coffin was resting on a stand, I burst out in sobs that remained with me throughout the service. I was literally inconsolable. I did not react in this manner at Irene’s funeral and never reacted similarly at my mother’s or Anne’s death which occurred later on. Unlike many others, I have never gained any solace during the seven days of shiva (mandatory sitting on a stool and being visited by friends and relatives who wish to console the mourners).
There is no doubt in my mind that these good people mean well when they enter the home of the mourners; however, I disliked being a captive audience for 14 hours a day for an entire week, excluding Saturday. Most of the conversation that emanated from these well-meaning persons turned me off. “How old was the deceased?” “What did he or she die from?” “How long was he or she ill?” “Did the deceased suffer a great deal before death?” Imagine being asked these questions by almost every visitor hour after hour, day after day. Not being a very patient person, it would have been best if I created a tape and played it when these questions arose.
I found, however, that there is one benefit in sitting shiva and that is when there are no visitors, and the immediate family discuss the life of the departed with reminiscing incidents filled with love and admiration. This bonds the survivors into a stronger family unit.
Saying kaddish (the prayer for the dead) for my father created at times great hardship. During the winter, there were several times that a minyan (quorum of 10 males) was not obtained; especially when there were snow storms. The synagogue that I joined was the Kingsway Jewish Center, the new edifice that I referred to previously. Since the construction was not yet completed, our services were held in the old building on the corner of 29th St. Since kaddish had to be chanted 3 times a day –morning, noon and night-, very often it was difficult for me to find a synagogue near the client that I was visiting that day. Therefore, there were times that I missed performing this obligation. Knowing my father, I always felt that he would say to me on these occasions, “Mendel, don’t let it bother you. I know you tried your best.” For one year, I could not cease crying for my father. In fact, Hilda and Kenny remember to this day how much I missed Papa.
When a close relative dies – parent, sibling, spouse or child – a Jew is obligated to come to the synagogue to recite the kaddish. This is not, as most Jews believe, a prayer for the dead but is rather a prayer of praise to God. So, even in our grief, we are to stand up in a minyan to declare our continuing faith in God and that we accept His divine plan without complaint.
We recite kaddish for 11 months, from the time of the funeral until 1 month before the first yahrzeit– the first anniversary of the death. Why 11 months and not the full year? Tradition teaches that in the year following death our loved one’s soul is being judged. Enough good deeds earn eternal reward; too many evil deeds guarantees eternal punishment. So, we learn that each time we recite kaddish we are adding to our loved one’s “mitzvah points,” earning additional merit for the one who might be deficient.
Yet no one could be so evil that it would take a full year of earning more merit to achieve gan edin (Paradise). Eleven months should be sufficient for even the most needing soul. Thus, we recite kaddish for 11 months, confident that our assistance in saying this prayer has been enough to assure that our loved one will enter eternal Eden.
A few weeks after we moved to 2705 K.H., we observed the High Holidays and went to pray at K.J.C. That is when we befriended Anita and Jack Walker. Jack had graduated from dental school and, to the best of my knowledge, never pursued that profession. He went into business with Anita’s father, Icko Wakmann, who was an importer of expensive Swiss watches. Jack, having a beautiful singing voice and being a graduate of Yeshiva University, became the cantor at K.J.C. This position was a side occupation as his time during the week was spent at his business in the diamond center. Anita, a very beautiful and charming young lady emigrated with her family from Portugal. They had one daughter at that time, Marilyn a.k.a. Malkele. I will be relating to them as I write since they are one of our closest friends to this day.
The other couple who became our life-long friends was Birdie and Bob Judd. When I entered the shul on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, a vision of loveliness appeared before me. As I was standing for one of the prayers, I couldn’t help but notice a stunning, classy brunette in the woman’s section wearing a large red hat. I know God has forgiven me for this trespass since He was the Creator of this beauty. Incidentally, I prefer to pray in an Orthodox synagogue because I know my weakness to temptation. Sitting with a woman next to me whose dress or skirt is over her knees or the aroma emanating from her perfume doesn’t add to my kavona (spirituality).
After the services, I, not being shy, introduced myself to her and she then introduced her husband Bob to me. Bob was a very tall, handsome young man with a great deal of personality. He was a lawyer who practiced his profession for a very short time and then went into business with his brother, Phil. They repaired and sold ticket machines for theatres and other establishments employing these machines. After several years, Bob went to work for Zenith as a salesman. He was en excellent speaker and for many years conducted all the appeals at K.J.C. He was several times elected as Chairman of the Board at Kingsway. They have 2 daughters, Lenore and Pauline. Unfortunately, Birdie died a few years ago and Bob is not in very good health as I am writing. They were only a few years older than Hilda and I. Bob is still our close friend; however, he is in poor health and is living with Lenore, his loving daughter in Maryland.
After the High Holidays, while awaiting the completion of the new K.J.C., I continued to pray on Saturdays and Holidays in the old schul. What comes to my mind, as I am writing this, was the attire that the officers wore. Each of them was garbed in dark gray jackets, striped trousers, striped gray tie and a homburg hat. This clothing is what is worn by males at an afternoon wedding. In addition, I was amazed to discover on my first Kol Nidre night that most of the male congregants wore tuxedos. On the following morning, some wore a kittel (a long, white robe denoting purity).
The officers were men of wealth and were mainly responsible for the construction of the new building. None of them were Orthodox in practice and, when I was more familiar with them, inquired why they were members and strong supporters of an Orthodox synagogue. Every response was the same: “I grew up in an Orthodox home and would not feel comfortable in a non-traditional shul.” In fact, some of them would go into their business establishments, play golf or go shopping immediately after attending Sabbath services.
Kingsway became a house of worship in 1928 in a store on Nostrand Avenue without a rabbi. The sexton’s duties included being the baal tefilah (leading the congregation in prayer) and the baal kore (reader of the Torah). Several years later, as the membership grew, a small building on Kings Highway on the corner of 29th street was built to house the new synagogue. Towards the end of World War II, Rabbi Samuel Chill was engaged as the first full-time spiritual leader. He was 2 or three years older than I and had attended Yeshiva Torah Vadaath. Hilda and I became very friendly with him and his wife, Hilda. We ate Shalosh Seudas (the third meal) on many Saturday afternoons in each of our homes. Also, we attended many Broadway shows, concerts and the opera with them.
Since he was Orthodox, he moved Kingsway more to the right than it had been previously. When I was elected President in 1970, I was the first Sabbath observer ever elected to this office. After my term of office in 1974, which also was a “first” since none of my predecessors was elected for two terms, every one of my successors kept the Sabbath holy. What was surprising was the fact that none of the officers or congregants disapproved of Rabbi Chill’s action. When he retired in 1972 and made aliya to Israel, I, being in my second year of the Presidency of K.J.C., was able to grant him a substantial severance pay in addition to his pension. When we visited Hilda in Israel after his death, she thanked me profusely.
I remember quite well the names of the “big guns” who ran Kingsway at the time I became a member. The President was Harry Burros, who owned the Burros Bag Co. located at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge on the Brooklyn side. When I rode to work on the subway and traveled over the bridge, I would feel good to see a tall smoke stack with the words “Burros” painted thereon. He and his lovely wife Ruth were fine people whom I admired.
The Chairman of the Board was Phil Fein, a very short and portly man who was a manufacturer of children’s clothing. At every meeting, he made his presence known, not being a shy person. I still remember his removing his stuffed wallet from his pocket at board meetings, patting it several times with his hand and exclaiming: “Boyes, this is what counts.” His wife, Ida, was the direct opposite of her husband as she was very unassuming.
Mr. Cohen, who was an account vice-president of the National Safety Bank where my father in-law had his accounts, introduced me to his son, Frank who owned a printing business, Brite Printing Co. on East 24th St; this was my only new account in 1950 and lasted till 1988.
In December, the General Accounting Office in Washington finally settled my naval accounts while being disbursing officer of the Bollinger. Of all the millions I disbursed over my signature, they discovered a $12.00 overpayment which they wrote off. Being a very “humble” person, I certainly don’t want to “toot my own horn” but I think that’s a damn good record. In fact, from the date of my discharge till the Korean War, I received many letters from Admirals in the Supply Corps requesting that I return to active duty; unfortunately, I discarded all of the correspondence.
Our office lease on Fourth Ave. expired in April 1951 and we signed a five year lease at 15 Park Row, across from City Hall. The office, which was on the 8th floor, contained an entrance vestibule and 4 rooms; one each for Herman, a secretary, our staff and myself. Having a slight case of claustrophobia, I selected a suite whose rooms all faced the front of the building and having a direct view of City Hall Park and City Hall.
Several years later Hilda and I met Mitzi and Jack Avner at Camp Winsocki, where both our boys and their 3 children attended. He was an insurance broker and, since I liked him, I recommended him to many of my clients and his income soared as a result.
We became very close friends, vacationing together and spending many weekends in each other’s homes. Jack suggested that I rent another room that became vacant adjacent to our suite so that he could become my tenant; I obliged immediately and he remained in my office for many years.
Our office at 15 Park Row was owned by two brothers; one of whom was more active than the other. After the first two lease renewals-ten years-, the active landlord would negotiate the lease with me and I always felt he was reasonable. After ten years went by and the third lease was ready for renewal, an employee was sent to negotiate with me. Liking the owner and feeling that it was mutual, I stated that I would only deal with him and him alone. Incredible as it may seem, for the next twenty years, all leases were handled between him and me. He told me that I was the only one of all his tenants in all the office buildings he owned that he personally dealt with. We always had a short session in our dealings and he was always reasonable with his terms.
In the spring of 1951, the new Kingsway Jewish Center was ready for occupancy; the old area being converted to a catering hall. The new edifice not only consisted of a large, beautiful sanctuary and a nice sized beth medrosh (sanctuary for weekday prayers and Torah study) but also an Olympic size indoor swimming pool, a very large gymnasium, a sauna, a spacious auditorium, several offices and meeting rooms.
The main sanctuary was reached by walking up around 16 steps and the entrance had 6 wide doors leading to a very wide hall. On each side of the hall were 5 steps leading to another door which led into the sanctuary. The interior was built in the same manner as the British Parliament, with a long and wide center containing nothing other than a stand where the Cantor would lead the congregation in prayer. Also, the sexton would chant the portion of the Torah from this stand. Those who were called to the Torah to recite the blessings would reach the stand on either side of it and walk up 2 steps.
The pews on both sides of the sanctuary were elevated, each row one step higher than the other. The first 4 rows on each side were reserved for the men and the next 3 higher rows were for the women. The separation for the 2 sections was a brass bar covered with a velvet fabric.
As the years went by, this separation became higher and higher as modern Orthodoxy drifted to the right. For many years, the congregants had to enter from the top doors, having to walk by the women’s section. When there was an influx of new members years later, who were more medakdik (stringent), this practice was discontinued and people entered through hall doors and walked in the center to their respective seats.
In the front of the sanctuary stood a large, magnificent oran kodesh (holy ark) where many Torah scrolls resided. On the left side, facing the ark, the Rabbi and the Cantor sat and on the right, sat the President and 2 Vice-Presidents. What is hard to believe, is that this million dollar synagogue was constructed by a membership of 220 families and that figure in today’s dollars would be beyond belief. Of course, one must realize that this occurred a few years after the war when people became quite wealthy.
Kenny was now 8 years of age and was completing 2 years of schooling at the Yeshiva of Flatbush when we received a phone call from Mr. Braverman, the Principal and executive director of Flatbush. He informed us that beginning with the next year of registration every parent would be assessed, in addition to the tuition, a fairly large sum for the annual dinner and journal.
Since I was not expanding my practice to any great extent, I was finding it difficult to make ends meet. Rent and tuition were taking its toll financially. I therefore told him that this would necessitate my taking Kenny out of Flatbush and register him in another school. I really expected him to say that he would consider my financial situation and remove this obligation as I was paying full tuition which, I was sure, not all parents were doing at the time.
Always being a very proud person, a trait that I inherited from my mother, I did not ask him to change his mind. God works in wondrous ways.
Several years later when Kenny was in the 8th grade at Yeshiva Rambam and was selected to be the valedictorian at the commencement exercises, the same Mr. Braverman, on learning of Kenny’s high scholastic achievements, again phoned me. He sounded completely different than in his previous call, this time requesting instead of demanding.
He wanted Kenny to enter the newly-established Flatbush High School and I would not have to pay any tuition. He was looking for students with high elementary school grades to enhance the reputation of his new school and, consequently, have them accepted into prestigious colleges. This strategy would definitely be a great benefit to Mr. Braverman personally. You can just imagine how delighted I was in turning him down.
Because of Mr. Braverman’s demand, we registered Kenny back in Yeshiva Rambam. Fortunately, the school relocated to a nice building on Kings Highway at 31st Street, 4 blocks from our apartment. Kenny was now able to walk to school, assuring no foul-up in bus transportation that caused his switch to Flatbush two years previously.
When I went to the Yeshiva to make the financial arrangements regarding tuition, I met Rabbi Isadore Lefkowitz, the Principal and Executive Director. He was an attorney who didn’t practice law and a rabbi who had no pulpit. His desire in life was to help in the perpetuation of chinuch (Hebrew education). He loved being in daily contact with young children and I never heard him raise his voice or displaying anger at an unruly child.
We remained friends for exactly 50 years. He passed away while living in the same condo in Florida where we owned an apartment. In the last 2 years prior to his death he suffered from dementia and I purposely sat next to him at the morning and evening prayer services so that I could turn the siddur (prayer book) pages for him. I believe that he was able to pray without the book as I could see him moving his lips and I could recognize some of the words he was saying. He was one of the finest gentlemen that I have ever known. There is a Yiddish saying: “tzu Gott und zu leit” (“to God and to man”) and he personified that throughout his life.
I cannot recall whether it was on a Saturday or Holiday when I noticed a very handsome and classy couple around my age entering theshul. I kept staring at them throughout the service. At the conclusion of the prayers, Hilda and I introduced ourselves to them or they introduced themselves to us; I don’t remember which is correct. They, subsequently, told us that they too noticed us and wanted to meet us.
That was the beginning of a 51 year warm and close friendship that exists to this day. I am referring to Sylvia and Dave Lupkin. They were members of Madison Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue located one block away from K.J.C. For some reason they were disenchanted with Madison and wanted to experiment with an Orthodox shul.
Dave, at that time was a partner in Daving Paper Products together with Irving Strassman, a brother of Sylvia. Her other three brothers, Sol, Sid and Hy were minor partners. The company purchased bales of cardboard and cut and lined them to the specifications of their customers who were in the advertising and display business.
The Lupkins have two sons, Stanley, an attorney who was in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for several years, then became N.Y.C. Commissioner of Investigation for a while. Presently, he has his own successful private practice. Their other son, Joseph, upon graduating from college, entered his father’s business and, when Dave retired at a young age, succeeded his father at the helm of Daving. Based on what Dave told me, Joseph expanded the business and made it more profitable than ever. Today, Joseph is also retired at a very young age and his son, Lawrence took over Daving.
Knowing that I was a CPA, both Yeshiva Rambam and K.J.C. asked me to audit their books and prepare annual financial statements. Of course, I didn’t refuse and naturally my services were pro-bono. In addition, over the coming years, I prepared the income tax returns of numerous rabbis without charging them a fee.
At Kingsway, I knew there were several other members who were accountants so I decided to form a committee of these gentlemen and I would assign different months to each of them to perform audits, myself included.