I added only one account in 1951 and that was Gencomex Trading Co. owned by Zoli Moskovits, my brother in-law Al’s older brother. This company imported canned bonita from Peru. The company was dissolved in 1961 when Zoli moved to Brazil.
The following year, Al formed a new corporation called International Bartering Corp. with Leo Rapaport, his Studio Knit partner, both being major stockholders. His father I. Philip Moskovits and his sister Edith’s husband Joel Rosner were minority stockholders.
Leo Rapaport had a cousin Simon Rapaport who was in the industrial diamond business with Sylvan and Armand Goldmuntz who resided and had offices in Antwerp, Belgium. Simon ran the N.Y. office on Fifth Ave. For many years, their company received parcels of industrial diamonds from the De Beers Syndicate in South Africa. Only favorite customers of the Syndicate would receive unopened and un-inspected parcels of these and precious stones. If the recipient rejected a shipment, the company was automatically removed forever from the list.
The General Services Administration (GSA) of the U.S. at that time was purchasing industrial diamonds to be used by American machine tooling establishments. Since diamonds are the most solid metals, these companies employed these stones only. The GSA was stockpiling these diamonds for a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union. This agency was also stockpiling other raw materials necessary for a future war effort.
At this time, the Dept. of Agriculture was feeding half of Europe with wheat, corn and other grains and receiving very little payment from these almost destitute foreign countries. In addition, our government was destroying surplus grain in order to prevent our farmers from going bankrupt as the supply far exceeded domestic consumption.
Whether the idea of barter originated in Al’s father’s mind since he was a very successful grain merchant in pre-war Hungary dealing almost exclusively with neighboring governments or the idea was generated by the Goldmuntzes, I cannot recall. At any rate, it was a brilliant business move. Al, his father and Rappi made an appointment with the Dept. of Agriculture in Washington to explore this barter concept.
International Bartering Corp. (IBC) would take the surplus grain off the hands of our Govt. and sell it to European grain importers at much reduced prices and in turn would supply the GSA with the diamonds or other materials at no cost to the U.S. other than the surplus grain which they were destroying anyway. Thus, for example, 20 million dollars worth of grain at current market prices would be exchanged for 20 million dollars worth of diamonds at current prices. IBC would sell the grain at prices below market, thus sustaining a loss but would make its profit on the raw materials.
For a period of 14 years till 1966, IBC continued this business trading in feathers, mercury and other materials besides diamonds. When the stockpiles of the U.S. were deemed sufficient, the GSA ceased the barter operations. Al, during these years, spent the entire week in Washington having a suite of rooms at the 1400 Hotel and would return to his home for the week-end. His primary task was negotiating the barter contracts with the Dept. of Agriculture and the GSA. Many times it would take a period of months before a negotiated contract was signed.
Since I was the accountant for IBC since its inception, I made quite a number of trips to Washington and met with high ranking members of both agencies together with Al. Rappi was in charge of the disposition of the grain and, therefore, would travel extensively to Antwerp to confer with their selling agent, a man named Limberg whom I met several times when he came to N.Y. for conferences.
Besides enjoying my professional contact with IBC because of my exposure to a phase of accounting which was very different than the usual audit and tax problems, my relationship with Al blossomed into a brotherly bond that lasted till his death in 1999. My feeling towards Chippy, Al’s wife and Hilda’s sister did not need IBC to make me love her. She was 12 when I met Hilda and it was love at first sight for both of us. I was always the dear brother she never had and she will always be my young, loving sister.
Through Al, Hilda and I became very close to his entire family. In fact, throughout the years, our friends thought we were relatives to the Moskovits family. Since they were quite wealthy in Satmar in Transylvania, the Hungarian speaking area of Romania, they were able to immigrate to the U.S. in 1941. After living in Manhattan for 1 year, they purchased a home on President St. in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
The family consisted of Philip, the father, Helena, the mother, Zoli, the eldest son, Al (Hashu), Ernest (Lulu), Anne (Pupe) and Bernard (Bubi); the siblings were all unmarried and lived with their parents. The oldest child was Edith who was married to Joel Rosner and had a son Alexander (Zanny) who was born in 1942. They had their own house on Carroll St., one block from their parents.
Joel, being a textile engineer, opened a ladies underwear factory in Queens. Philip, being a commodities trader in the old country and having no experience in textiles, nevertheless became a partner with his substantial investment. Edith went in with Joel every day having taught herself the art of designing and patternmaking. The company was given the name “Moro Mfg. Co.” an abbreviation of Moskovits and Rosner.
After several months, the business moved to 27th St. and Broadway and soon after to Canal Street. The war was now in full force and the military needed T-shirts for their personnel. Moro was now very successful in obtaining contracts to meet the demand for this item. Al and Rappi, seeing Moro doing well, decided to open a factory making the same product and received contracts as well. Tuban Mills was started on Greene St. off Canal. A few years later, when the war ended, they formed Studio Knit that produced knitted garments.
Being extremely benevolent people, the Moskovitses in 1946 brought over from Europe 102 relatives and found homes for them and employed most of them in their factory. Al, likewise, employed some of them in his plant at Tuban Mills. As the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”; many of these recipients of favors reciprocated by going on strike against Tuban and picketed the Moro in order to organize a union. What amazes me is the fact that neither Philip nor Al rejected them as relatives nor took an adverse action against them other than not rehiring them.
In 1946, Philip and Joel purchased Beechwood Estate in Irvington-on-the Hudson in Westchester. The property contained 15 acres with a large main house, 3 smaller houses, Olympic swimming pool and 2 tennis courts. There was a large barn with 2 cows as well. The family sold their President St. home and moved to Irvington. They supplied many of their relatives with lodging in their new home besides employing them in the factory.
Three years later, we began to spend our summers in Irvington as though we were members of their family. Kenny was six and Dennis was one. I would drive to and from my office in Manhattan every day but I didn’t mind it because I knew that as soon as I arrived in Irvington, I would cool off before dinner in the spacious pool. We also spent several Succoth holidays at Beechwood. On Saturdays, we played touch football with the children; we were able to do so halachically because we were in a private area; thus we were not violating the Sabbath.
As we were playing, I remember Dennis at the age of three sitting next to Gal, Al’s German shepherd twirling the dog’s tail constantly with his mouth wide open. He still hadn’t uttered one word and although Hilda and I weren’t concerned, my father-in-law suggested that we see a “professor” to examine Dennis. Being aware of our child’s parents’ “high IQ”, we knew that eventually he not only would begin speaking but would never stop while becoming a well-known lecturer.
The many summers we spent at Irvington will never be forgotten by us and our children as well. Strong friendships were developed between our sons and the Rosner children, Zanny and his sister Franny. After our boys would return from camp, they came to Beechwood and stayed there with us until the commencement of school sessions.
Through our visits to Irvington, we also created a very close friendship with Al’s cousins, Velvel and Chavi Spiegel, who lived with the Moskovitses in Beechwood. Later on, when they purchased a nursing home in 1969, I became their accountant until 2002 when they sold it and I retired. We have remained good friends and hope to be so for many years.
Speaking of Al, we socialized very often with him and Chippy. For many years we celebrated New Year’s Eve with them and with our friends. Since Al’s father was very religious, he did not permit his children to attend any festivities that pertained to a “Christian” holiday. Al, therefore, would go to his sister’s house on Carroll Street to get dressed for that evening. Every year, we went to Madison Square Garden to watch the N.Y. Rangers hockey team play the Boston Bruins. After the game, we all marched downtown to Times Square to view the large ball rise at the stroke of midnight ushering in the New Year.
Then all five or six couples would go to one of our homes to partake of cold cuts and have a great time. When Al and Chippy bought a house on North Bay Rd. in Miami Beach several years later, we continued the practice of being together on New Year’s Eve which I will write about later on.
About a year after I returned from the Navy, the four of us went to the Capital Theatre on Broadway on a Saturday night to attend a movie. Since it was in the winter, the street was covered with much snow. As we left the theatre lobby and walked onto the street, a wise guy about our age thought it would be a good idea to hit Hilda with a snowball. He was accompanied by his girl friend and two other couples. Hilda was wearing a brand new beaver fur coat that I brought home for her as a surprise gift.
Mac, always having guts and not too much sense, immediately confronted the culprit ordering him to apologize to Hilda for his act which I did not interpret as a joke. When he declined, I grabbed him by the neck and started punching him, instructing Al to get a policeman. As soon as his friends heard this, they started to run since one of them was carrying a gun.
What amazed me about this fracas was Al’s behavior. He did not come to my aid while all this was going on. He had constantly told me how strong he was and how many kids he beat up in Romania when they picked on his siblings. For the entire trip going home in the car, he didn’t stop apologizing to me for his inaction and couldn’t understand what happened to him. Of the three of us, he was the most hurt.
In 1952, we registered Kenny for the first time in a sleep-away summer camp, Camp Eton. Many years later, we discovered that Kenny’s future wife, Jeannie, was also a camper there at the same time. In addition, Jeannie’s brother Danny was in his bunk and Jeannie’s mother, Claire, was the camp mother.
A year later, when Dennis was five and Kenny was past ten, we enrolled them in Maple Lake summer camp. Our friends, the Lupkins also sent their sons, Stanley and Joseph to this camp at the same time and we all enjoyed our two Sunday visits immensely.
What enters my mind now is my father-in-laws reaction to our sending Dennis who was not yet five to a sleep-away camp. On one of our visits we drove up to the camp with Hilda’s parents and when we were ready to leave, Dennis started to cry as he wished to leave with us. Papa Friedfeld then berated us in no uncertain terms telling us how cruel we were to ship off such a young child away from home. We, naturally, were not swayed and poor Dennis remained in exile.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a surprise, tank-led invasion across the 38th parallel into South Korea. At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was split at this point by the Soviet Union and the U.S. as the Allies drove Japan out of Korea. With the consent of its Soviet patron, North Korea invaded seeking to impose communist rule throughout the peninsula. The U.S. with the approval of the United Nations, several months later, entered the war. China, another new communist power, entered the war in October, sending waves of soldiers into North Korea when UN forces threatened to overrun the Yalu River on the Chinese border.
On one Saturday morning in 1953, I received a telegram signed by Harry S. Truman, Pres. of the United States recalling me to active duty. He also informed me that if I would not or could not obey this command, I would be automatically discharged from the Naval Reserve and relinquish my commission and rank which was now Lt. Cmdr. Had I not been an observant Jew and had Hilda acquiesced, I would have returned to the Navy because, despite going through the travails of World War II, I liked being in the Navy. I, of course, declined my commander- in-chief’s invitation and told him so; on Jan. 19, 1954, I was honorably discharged.
In 1953, when Kenny was 10, we decided to visit Hilda’s sister Esther in Baton Rouge, LA; we left Dennis with my in-laws as he was a poor traveler. As I mentioned previously, she married Joe Saltz immediately after the war; Joe was born and raised in that city. As I was still in the Navy, I was not able to attend their wedding or the wedding of Chippy and Al.
We traveled in our light blue De Soto, named Betsy, with Kenny performing the task of navigator throughout the trip. For many years, I always purchased a De Soto and always gave it the same name. Before each and every trip, I would obtain from the AAA a trip-tick, maps of the USA and every state that we would pass and travel books noting restaurants and motels on our voyage. Kenny would direct me from this paraphernalia.
We spent about 10 days with Esther, Joe and their two daughters, Nancy, aged seven and Diane, aged three. I can still remember the delicious cajun cuisine that Etta Mae, their housekeeper and cook, would serve us. We visited together with our hosts the LSU campus, the State capital, a sugar cane processing plant and the Mississippi levees.
Joe, although he received a degree in history, never pursued a career in his major. Instead, he entered his father’s business which was a retail army and navy store. We met his lovely parents and his two brothers, Willie and Izzy and his sister, Ida, and their spouses. Joe and his family were not Orthodox or even Conservative Jews, being members of a Reformed Temple.
Esther, being Orthodox her entire life, found this situation troubling; however, she remained an observant Jew throughout her life. Her home maintained kashrus and celebrated the Sabbath and Jewish holidays in every halachic detail. She taught the children in the Reformed school many of the Orthodox tenets, with the full approval of the Rabbi. In fact, when she died on July 4, 1956, the Temple erected a large plaque in her memory at the entrance to the sanctuary.
After several days of our visit, I made a remark to Hilda that unfortunately was prophetic. Since there were many oil processing plants in Baton Rouge, the air was filled with multi-colored smoke spewing from the smoke stacks. I told Hilda that this polluted environment had to be a cause of lung cancer, basing this on my Uncle Dovid’s contracting lung cancer because he lived across the street from the Pfizer chemical plant.
In 1952, we started to travel by car to the Moskovits’ winter home at Royal Palm Ave. in Miami Beach. Kenny was 9 and Dennis was 3 ½ at the time and they always looked forward the entire year for our annual excursion to the South. At this time, the I-95 highway was not yet built so I went via route 17 all the way to Florida; driving through many cities. I always exceeded the speed limit of 50 miles per hour on these trips so that I could make the trip in 3 days. In all the years that we made this trip, I received only one speeding ticket.
We usually started driving each morning around 6 a.m. and stopped around 7 p.m. Once when we were driving through Georgia around 7 am and I was doing about 75 miles per hour, an unmarked car overtook us and stopped us. A man in civilian clothes got out of the car and identified himself as being the local sheriff. He looked into our car and when he saw our young children in the back, he was astonished that I would be so foolish as to drive so fast on a terrible road. Instead of giving me a ticket and making me appear before a local judge, he asked me for $50.00 and cautioned me to not endanger my passengers by going so fast. Whether he pocketed the money or turned it over to the authorities I couldn’t say. Of course, I never drove over sixty going south again.
As soon as we entered the city of Miami Beach, we always stopped at the Saxony Hotel which had an ice cream parlor called the “Noshery”. We all would order a large hot-fudge sundae which we looked forward to on the entire trip. Then we would arrive at the Moskovits home to spend a delightful 2 weeks with Al, Chippy, Zanny, his sister Frannie, Jamie, Al’s sister Anne’s son, and Al’s other siblings. Since Rappi and his wife Susie and their daughter Margie lived next door, we spent lots of time with them as well.
We would take all the children to the Monkey Jungle, the Parrott Jungle, the Serpentarium, where the various species of snakes would be milked for their venom, and other places that attracted children.
After several years, Al built his home on North Bay Road and then we began to spend our winters with them for many years until 1998 when he sold his house. For many years, we celebrated New Years Eve with Al and Chippy at their home with many of their friends and Rappi and Susie. I can never forget those evenings full of warmth, food and hilarity.
Although Al always denied he was a Satmar Chassid, he opened his home to the Satmar Rebbi, his lovely Rebbitzin and the Rebbi’s entourage of men and women who catered to his every need. Since his home consisted of many bedrooms, he was able to accommodate many guests.
For the first two years of the Rebbi’s stay, he performed his mikva (ritual bath) obligations in Biscayne Bay on which the house was located. After that period, Al built a mikva on his premises. He also purchased an additional freezer and placed it outside in his yard. The Rebbi’s Chassidim would bring their own food from Williamsburg as they evidently did not trust the kashrus (kosher adherence) of Chippy and Al. For many years until the Rebbi passed away, their home in the winter was a crowded hotel as many Chassidim would visit with their families in order to receive blessings from their exalted Rebbi.
Throughout these years, believe it or not, Chippy kept reporting the filching of food from the outside freezer and silverware. These supposedly ultra religious people had some in their midst who did not consider stealing a violation of one of the Commandments. The Rebbitzen, when informed of these despicable acts, constantly berated these “guests” with the hope that it would cease. Unfortunately, nobody knew the names of the culprits.
In 1953, Al wanting to help me expand my accounting practice, introduced me to Aron Maged, Salamon Wachsman and Samuel Nirenstein who together with Al and Rappi purchased a nursing home on 74th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Ave. This home was named Aron Manor using the initials of Al, Rappi, Maged and Nirenstein and was one of six nursing homes on the block; all being 4 story brownstone buildings.
When I first entered this home to examine the books of the seller prior to the purchase, I was shocked at the appearance of the patients and the strong odor of urine. I had never been exposed to old and sick people in the past so I had not anticipated the sight that appeared before me.
Fortunately, when the new owners took over the reins of this establishment, many changes were instituted to alleviate the horrible conditions of the past. Never again was there a putrid aroma of urine as electric air deodorizers were installed throughout the home. Also, patient care was elevated to a high degree.