My father and I always had a close relationship. He was a successful businessman, he worked for my grandfather into his mid-30s, then went off on his own. He was doing well in the construction business in Washington, but he never made it seem like he was too busy, like he had to work all the time. He was always around on the weekend and the evenings. I remember him being pretty relaxed; he didn’t talk about his business at all. He talked a lot about sports, even before he bought the Baltimore Bullets in 1964. He coached me for 3 years in the Jewish league at the Jewish Community Center. He was coach and kind of commissioner of the league. He taught me to play tennis; we did a lot of sports together. It was fun. He didn’t talk too much abt business. He talked abt social justice issues, the early days of the civil rights movement. It wasn’t preachy, just a part of every day life. I remember back in those days, when we were little kids, the Cold War was raging. We would hear all this talk abt Communism. Asked him once about communism. He said Communism would be the best system because everybody would be equal and treated equal, but the question is whether it was practical or not. Always he treated everybody with respect, his whole life. We had housekeepers, workers on his job. He treated everyone the same. He wasn’t preachy, it was genuine.
Both sets of my grandparents were alive when I was growing up. My mothers parents until I was 13, grandmother on father’s side died when I was 36. They were always around and we lived in same city. Our family heritage was strong.
They were Jewish immigrants from Russia. They didn’t have to say too much. My father certainly followed all the ideas of honoring parents, relatives, very close family. Fact that my grandparents had good amount of money, they didn’t act like they were rich. Acted almost like Russian peasants. Not snobby. Jewish heritage was important. Being a Jew meant you were proud of it, had certain ethical standards you lived by. My father wasn’t very observant but he was committed. 2 big things go on in religion: ritual and carrying out ethical practices. He was never big on first part, the ritual part. Observing the Sabbath, knowing the prayers, reading Hebrew, he was never interested in. But honoring family, heritage, being good to children, good to community, that was everyday life for him. He did say this stuff at times growing up, but wasn’t like he was telling me I must do this, and do that. He was doing it himself. Such as Abe’s Table, which was about helping the hungry. He didn’t make a big deal out of it. Most things he did, he just did it and nobody really knew abt it.
Any good religion has the same ethical values. It’s not like he felt that the fact he was Jewish made him superior. Just last week, we had so much to do with his will, going thru things. We were going down list of things my father supported and whether he would continue. I picked that one up for sure.
He was a great guy. He also didn’t push himself on me. Wasn’t like he was intimidating, so that I felt like I could never live up. He was a humble person in many ways. To him, leading moral and ethical life was part of what he conveyed everyday. He would see someone begging on the street, no one else would stop, he would give him a dollar. He said don’t know if they’re really desperate but they may be. I don’t want to take the chance that they might need help. Last few years he couldn’t move, couldn’t feed himself, could barely keep his eyes open, but he still was able to maintain his dignity the whole time. Seeing his life, his strength and perspective. That was most impressive to me. When you’re up, it’s easier to be a good guy, but when you’re down, to maintain the same strength and dignity and respect for other people up until the minute he died, it was inspiring. When I think abt carrying on and telling his life story maybe to his 1 year old granddaughter, I certainly would start with that. It was amazing. He was in and out of hospitals, George Washington Hosp, and one of the nurses messed up bad. She did something serious. He was extremely mad at her. When we were wheeling him out, he wanted to stop. He said I have to talk to her. I said Dad let’s go. They had to go find her; she was on another floor. He said you messed up, but I forgive you. I hope you forgive me for getting angry with you. It was a month before he died, but he didn’t want to leave before letting her know he forgave her.
April 14, 2011