On June 2, 1973, Yesiva Rambam celebrated its 25th Silver Anniversary with a week-end at the Pine View Hotel in the Catskills. The school decided to honor nine alumni who achieved notable success since their graduation. The honorees included our sons, Kenneth and Dennis, and Kenny’s good friend, Andrew Reinhard with his brother David. Kenny dormed with Andrew at Columbia College and both attended Harvard University; Kenny at the medical school and Andy at the law school. David went on to pursue a medical career. I related previously the path that Dennis followed subsequent to his graduation.
Kenny couldn’t attend since he was at that time in Chicago being Chief Resident at Billings General Hospital. He sent a warm message congratulating his fellow guests of honor and the faculty and friends of the Yeshiva on the completion of its 25 years of physical growth and spiritual achievement. His letter was included in the Journal of the event.
After I finished my four year term as president of Kingsway Jewish Center which, incidentally, was the longest term ever held by a president of this prestigious institution, I began a 2 year term of chairman of the board. In my six year period of leading Kingsway, I was fortunate in creating a day school and in the construction of a building called the Early Childhood Center. Shelly Apfelbaum, who was executive director of the synagogue and principal of the day school, was of incredible help to me in achieving this success.
Several years later, when Kenny was the chairman of the board of the Moriah Yeshiva in Englewood, he asked me if Shelly would be available to be the principal of Moriah since his board wanted to make a change in the principal’s office. I told him to contact Shelly to ascertain if he was interested. Shelly’s response was, that if I acquiesced to his leaving Kingsway, he would make the change. I, immediately, told Shelly, that if he could improve his financial situation, I would not stand in his way and would give my blessing to the change. He, fortunately, took my advice and remained as principal of Moriah for many years until he retired. All my grandchildren attended Moriah while Shelly headed the yeshiva and found him to be an excellent educator and one who loved children.
In 1975, Dennis was asked by Shlomo Bardin to be scholar-in-residence for a week-end at the Brandeis Institute in Simi Valley, Ca. This institution was originally founded in 1941 by the Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis together with Bardin to bring teenagers and college students to Judaism. After the demise of Brandeis, Bardin took over the reins of the institute and renamed it Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI). Dennis, evidently, impressed Bardin so that he asked this 26- year old young man to be Assistant Director of BBI. At that time, he announced that Dennis would be his successor; a week later, Bardin died at the age of 77 and Dennis became Director. My son immediately engaged his best friend, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, as Education Director. Dennis also engaged our nephew, Elliot Prager as Social Director. He would spend the summers there with his wife Sarah and his 2 children.
During the 6 years of Dennis’s stay at BBI, Hilda and I would visit every summer and enjoy a pleasant Shabbat week-end there. Among the many wonderful friends that we met there were Ruth and Carl Brown with whom we remained close friends for many years; even after Dennis left BBI. For many years, we visited and stayed at their home in Whittier and, whenever they visited New York, they would stay at our home in Brooklyn. When Ruth passed away, our friendship with Carl did not survive her death.
On May 20, 1976, Jeannie gave birth to twins, Tamar and Benjamin, who was named after my father. We celebrated a bris and a simchas bas in our children’s home inviting loads of guests midst a catered sida (brunch). Tamar was present throughout her brother’s bris and beautiful readings and blessings were delivered to the new arrivals by several of our closest relatives.
In that same year, I obtained another client, IABM Bakery Systems, Inc. which imported bakery machines and sold the same to bakeries throughout the U.S. The two stockholders were Leon Angel and Alvin Mintz. Leon is related to the Angels in Israel who own the largest bakery in that country. I was the accountant for IABM for 25 years. In 2001, Alvin took sick and succumbed to cancer and the firm was dissolved. Leon returned to his family in Haifa, Israel; however, I still prepare his tax returns. Alvin’s widow, Bella, still retains me to prepare her tax returns.
In 1977, my “third son”, Alex (Zanny) Rosner, formed Intertex Trading Corp. in Miami Beach, an export company that sells textile machinery, machinery parts, findings and thread throughout South and Central America. Of course, he engaged me to be his accountant which I still am to this day. In the same year, I was approached by two friends of mine that I knew from Yeshiva Rambam and Kingsway Jewish Center, Nick Schwartz and Imre Lefkowitz to ascertain whether I would be interested in being their accountant for a nursing home that they were contemplating buying in Edison, N.J. I very rarely rejected the opportunity to increase my practice so my response was in the affirmative. I remained their accountant till 1989 when the home was sold.
In May 1977, Dennis was nominated to the California Board of Regents. By the age of 28, Dennis already had lectured in 40 states, Canada and Korea. He had already traveled through 52 countries on 5 continents.
On April 15, 1978, Kingsway Jewish Center and its yeshiva, Kingsway Academy honored all its living past presidents and their wives on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary. It honored Sara & Michael Hoffman, Birdie & Bob Judd, Fay & David Hammerman, Adrienne & Nat Packer and Hilda & Max Prager.
I now refer you to chapter 27, page 177 of these memoirs wherein I write about the inevitability of the emergence of greed by some of the nursing home operators due to the new system of reimbursement by Medicaid and Medicare based on cost-plus instead of a fixed rate. Thus, I was not surprised that in 1975 the media reported that many of these homes in N.Y. State were cheating the government agencies of millions of dollars. Consequently, all the homes were audited to discover the culprits.
Although audits had been performed previously, the new examinations were more stringent and comprehensive. The State, to cover its past inefficiency in controlling this industry, now treated the innocent with the guilty in the same manor.
Every operator and accountant was guilty in their eyes until proven innocent. Many expenses reported to the agencies on the annual reports submitted were suspect as fraudulent items. Therefore, I don’t remember any home not being sued civilly and in many cases, criminal action was brought against the operators and their accountants.
At this time, my firm, Litt & Prager, already had 8 nursing home clients; 6 in N.Y. State and 2 in New Jersey. Fortunately, only one of my N.Y. clients was under investigation. All the accountants in this industry, including myself, were interrogated by Special Prosecutor Hynes’ Office. Not ever being in this position in the past, I didn’t know the names of any criminal lawyers. I consulted my very close friend’s son to recommend a good criminal lawyer since he had worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on his graduation from law school. He suggested an excellent attorney whom I immediately liked when I met him.
My lawyer instructed me to never appear before my interrogators without his being present. After 2 or 3 sessions, I was informed that I was not a target for indictment by the Grand Jury and I was no longer a criminal suspect.
However, since the State knew that almost every accountant carried malpractice insurance, we had “deep pockets” and were easy prey for civil recovery of possible misdeeds. Thus, in almost every civil case brought by the State’s Attorney General’s Office, the accountants were sued jointly with their clients.
In 1977, Max Prager, Litt & Prager and the administrator of this particular client were sued for 2 million dollars; perhaps the Attorney General’s Office were apprised of the fact that Litt & Prager carried 2 million dollars malpractice insurance. It seems that the State auditors discovered that my client in its annual cost report had unsubstantiated expenses which would be a cause for recovery of payments. When the administrator died in 1979, his estate and I were sued for 1 million dollars, instead of the previous sum.
When I was sued in 1977, I notified my insurance company to handle the suit. They turned it over to D’Amato & Lynch, a law firm who had the expertise in defending such lawsuits. I met with two lawyers from this office explaining the situation. I also told them that I would not approve of any settlement and if they exercised such action, I would sue them since I had committed no error in my report justifying any recovery.
Several years later, my attorneys advised me that a hearing was to be held at the Attorney General’s Office to determine the validity of their claim. We entered the room and opposite of us sat a lady who was a Deputy Attorney General and the two auditors of the nursing home in question. It was quite apparent that the State was not able to discover any assets in the administrator’s estate so that the only one they could hope to recover any money was from my insurance company.
I was accompanied by a lawyer from D’Amato & Lynch and an accountant who was supposedly an expert witness on nursing homes. Before we entered the room, I advised my attorney and the “witness” to say nothing and allow me to handle my defense. Neither one of them knew as much about the annual report that I submitted as I did. Believe it or not, they consented to my request.
The auditors’ first complaint was the fact that the administrator had a very large number of relatives on the payroll. My answer was that he should have been commended for his altruism in aiding poor refugees from the Holocaust instead of being derided. Also, I asked the auditors if they found any of the relatives receiving a salary without working for their remuneration; their answer was “no”. I then stated even if there were relatives that did not work and received a salary, accountants were not detectives to ascertain which employees worked and which didn’t.
The second complaint was that the number of patient days included in my report was less than the actual patient days. This, of course, was a serious error, if true, since the reimbursement rate was calculated by dividing all the expenses by the number of patient days. Thus, the lower amount of days would result in a larger rate.
My defense was that these days were submitted to the accountant by management and it was not my task to ascertain the correctness of the actual days.
The third complaint was that I overstated the interest expense by reporting a figure of interest that was for the indebtedness of a corporation in which the administrator was a stockholder. I responded that I inadvertently did so, but when I discovered my error I immediately corrected this. Fortunately, I brought along the 2 reports showing the error and the amended report. I, also, then read the attestation that accompanied each and every report that I prepared. It reads: “We have examined this cost report including accompanying schedules, and to the best of our knowledge and belief, is true and correct.”
The above were the major so-called errors that were the basis of the law-suit. After 3 hours, the Deputy Attorney General turned to the auditors and criticized them for bringing a law-suit without any merit whatsoever. They felt chastised and didn’t reply. She then addressed me and stated that, based on what she had just heard, she agreed with me that I had done nothing wrong.
When my attorney and the “witness” left the room with me, they commended me for my performance and, in fact, the attorney asked me if I would be interested in being an expert witness for the insurance company in future suits; I declined the offer. Many years later in March of 1989, D’Amato & Lynch received from the Attorney General’s Office a “Stipulation of Discontinuance” issued by the Supreme Court of the State of New York. I received a letter from my attorneys stating: “We are pleased to report that the plaintiff, State of New York, has agreed to dismiss this case against you and your firm.”
What this unfortunate episode in my life demonstrated was that if one knows he is innocent, he should “stick to his guns” and not be intimidated. I am sure, that had I not stated unequivocally to my insurance company that under no circumstances would I allow a settlement, they would have settled to reduce their litigation time. That action would have besmirched my reputation as an accountant.
In the summer of 1980, Dennis met Janice Adelstein, a nurse at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Hilda and I were then visiting BBI and we both liked her immediately when our son informed us that he was interested in her as a prospective spouse. She was tall, pretty charismatic and wise; a perfect candidate to be our daughter-in –law. We met her parents, Malvina and Jack and found them to be ideal machitonim (in-laws). Ten months later, on January 15, 1981, they were wed in the House of the Book at BBI which was situated on a hill with the most amazing scenery. Since Dennis was the Director, he invited all the members of the Institute to the wedding which was held around 1 PM.
The total number of guests including family, friends and members totaled a figure in excess of 500. After the ceremony, a reception was held with plenty of food and dancing. The two families then retired to their respective homes to redress and prepare for another reception at the Sephardic Temple on Wilshire Blvd. To this event, we invited 200 guests and had a wonderful evening with catered food, music and dancing.
I will now move to a current event – September 2004 – which I think significant enough to relate. At the start of the current semester in Englewood’s public schools, a new program was instituted. Since the Orthodox community voted against a proposed bill to expend an extremely large sum for the construction of more school buildings, two members of our shul who were educators thought it would be a good idea if about 20 of our congregants would volunteer to tutor the children at an elementary school.
The reason we voted against the bill was the fact that the Englewood school system was the worst in Bergen County, despite the fact that this county was one of the wealthiest per capita counties in the U.S. and large sums of money were budgeted for education. Like Manhattan in N.Y.C. Bergen County consisted of the very rich and those in the lower strata financially. In our city, the wealthy are mostly Jews and a good percentage of them, Orthodox. The least wealthy are primarily African-Americans with a sprinkling of Latinos.
We, Orthodox, wanted to demonstrate that, despite our negative vote, we were very much interested in the academic welfare of our less fortunate neighbors. Consequently, when Hilda and I were asked to join this program, we readily accepted. At the first indoctrination meeting, we were told that we would be tutoring the 4th grade consisting of 8 year olds, almost all black with one or two Latinos; not one white child. I requested that a black boy with no father be assigned to me as I wanted to be a “big brother” in addition to tutoring him.
The tutors were to spend one hour every Thursday with their assigned students. Since I missed the following 2 Thursdays due to my surgery, when I returned, a black girl of 10 years of age who had been left back either once or twice was assigned to me. It is possible that since I had asked for a problem child, this girl became my pupil.
As expected, at our first encounter, she was very shy and I had to make her feel at ease. Before commencing our reading assignment, I made conversation with her asking questions about her family, her likes and dislikes and through that rapport, “broke the ice”. She, now, is very comfortable with me and, in fact, keeps telling me that I remind her of her grandfather whom she adores. Her reading ability is beginning to show improvement, although she seems to suffer from a form of dyslexia. When she reads, she changes the words and when she writes, she omits a letter of a word. Her penmanship is incredibly beautiful. She also suffers from an attention span, becoming bored frequently. I was advised to change the task we are engaged in as soon as she demonstrates her boredom. I am enjoying these sessions at least as much as she.
At our second session, a staff reporter from “The Bergen Record”, the only newspaper in our county, visited the school and interviewed me, the only one of the tutors; perhaps, because I was the oldest. His article was on the first page of the paper with the following headline: “Orthodox Jewish volunteers help in Englewood schools”. Hilda’s student is a pretty Latina girl who is also very smart. They both get along famously.
On the Thursday during the Chanukah week, Miriam Lubar and Billy Helft, the two educators who proposed the program, thought it would be a good idea to have a Chanukah party at the school for all the children whom we were tutoring. All of us contributed several dollars to purchase latkes, apple sauce, apple juice, dreidals and chocolate covered Chanukah “gelt”.
Miriam read from a children’s book relating to the meaning of Chanukah and asked the students questions about Jews and Judaism. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the answers. I never thought that 8 year old Negro children were familiar with anything Jewish. It is possible that their limited knowledge of the Old Testament and Jewish history which they learned in their churches was a factor in their being acquainted with Judaism.
None of the children ever attended a Chanukah party and were very elated to celebrate our holiday with us. We split up into groups of two children with two tutors to play the dreidal game. Jeannie and I played with Alexis Campbell, my student, and with Jeannie’s boy student, Brandon. They enjoyed playing so much that, when the hour came to an end, they were very disappointed as they wished to continue.
I now return to the chronological order of my memoirs. On September 7, 1981, which was Labor Day, we celebrated the first Bar or Bat Mitzva of a grandchild at Cong. Ahavath Torah, our shul. Karen was now 12 years of age and Hilda and I began to feel advanced age coming on. She was always a very bright child and we were not at all surprised at her excellent chanting her chosen haftorah, “nachamu, nachamu” which is chanted on the Sabbath when the portion of the Torah, V’eschanan is read. This is the Sabbath following the fast day of Tisha B’av, commemorating the destruction of both Temples. Since I was born on this fast day and I chanted this haftirah, it is possible that she had heard me several times in the past chant this beautiful and melodic tune. Be it as it may, her rendition was, at least, as good as mine.
After Karen read her haftorah, we all retired to the ballroom, where a wonderful catered reception was held. Karen then delivered a profound dvar torah (exegesis of a Torah text) which was on a Rashi interpretation of a sentence in that week’s portion of the Torah. It was a great feeling for Hilda and me to attend our first grandchild’s Bat Mitzva and, may I say, she has always been a source of great happiness and joy for us.
In September 1982, while Karen was in the 7th grade at the Moriah Yeshiva, the class was instructed to write an essay for a project fair. The students could write on any topic that interested them. My grand-daughter elected to write the biography of her Papa. She interviewed me by asking many questions beginning with my birth, attendance at Yeshiva Torah Vadaath and Boys High School, my love for sports, attendance at CCNY, how and where I met my wife, the birth of our first child (her father), why I volunteered to serve in the Navy, my duties as a naval officer, what I did after returning from the war, where I lived and facts relating to my parents and siblings.
The fact that she chose this topic increased my love for her, if that was possible. She and I have a very strong and affectionate feeling for each other to this very day.
On September 14 –our wedding anniversary- my mother-in-law, Sadie Friedfeld, whom I loved as though she were my mother, passed away in Florida at the age of 87. Although, since the day I met her she could not hear, we “spoke” to each other by her reading my lips. It was incredible that she understood every word that I communicated with her. We both had a deep love for each other. I always made her laugh with either jokes or other comical utterances and her usual retort to me was the phrase “meshigane (crazy) Mendel” stated with a large smile and much love.
In December 1982, the owners of Edison Nursing Home purchased another nursing home, Maple Hill Nursing Home in Maple Shade, NJ, which was near Cherry Hill and Camden. I retained this client till June 1987 when the Home was sold.