Chapter 12. Hyman Perlin: Education for Life

My last chapter covered academic education. This chapter will discuss my grandfather's content and method of teaching how one should go about being successful, happy and satisfied for the rest of one's life.

My grandfather's thoughts and ideas came from three sources: Jefferson, Franklin and Abraham. First, he was a typical Jeffersonian independent small farmer, much as the one depicted in Bruegel's 1565 painting,"The Haymaker." You could not tell from looking at this painting what year it was. As a farmer he had a conservative point of view.

Second, when he built the hotel to go with the farm he was acting in his capacity as Ben Franklin's ideal of a small business entrepreneur. He treated his guests as a modern 20th century hotelkeeper would. This was simply good business practice; as a hotelkeeper he had quite contemporary ideas. Third, as a liberal Orthodox Jew, (an oxymoron) he had more than 5000 years of religious and cultural tradition upon which to rely. Perhaps the best way to organize my grandfather's thoughts and ideas is through the use of proverbs. The definition of a "proverb" is "a short oral or written statement depicting the moral behavioral and or ethical practices that a religious or secular society demands of its members." A brief look at proverbs written in Ben Franklin's Almanac and in the Talmud reveals very similar expectations. Franklin collected his proverbs from the different countries from which the Colonists came. The Talmud provided the means of determining how God wants all Jews to live in all places and at all times. Specifically, how does the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, want me to live?

Predictions made from the Talmud proverbs were hardest to make because they were made from past tradition for an unpredictable future. The following are some anecdotes that illustrate the way my grandfather thought and acted, so that the reader can better understand what he was doing and why. In each case, I'll start with a proverb, and then talk about how my grandfather's philosophy embodied it.

The Talmud says: "Actions speak louder than words."

Ben Franklin says: "Well done is better than well said."

I did not know it at the time, and I'm not sure my grandfather knew it either, but he was teaching me by the "modeling method." When I was driving him to town I would always stay next to him when we went to the stores and watch the way he would communicate with the merchants. During the summer months, when we had guests at the hotel, I would watch how he treated them in his capacity as a hotelkeeper. After a while I found myself, to a certain extent, treating them the same way.

The Talmud says: "Birds of a feather flock together."

Ben Franklin says: "Birds of a feather flock together."

I'm not sure why all the Jewish Russian immigrants from the same area came to live in Mountaindale. I know that my grandmother had a friend from the old country (the wife of a merchant) who came to Mountaindale before my grandfather bought the farm. Other residents came from New York City for health reasons, or possibly they were steered to Mountaindale by real estate brokers and mortgage brokers. An outcome of this philosophy was his advice that whenever I came to a new place, I should go to religious services at a local synagogue on a Friday night or a Saturday morning. That way I would meet other Jews. I don't know whether this was a tradition in Russia or this was an idea of my grandfather who was an iterant carpenter who traveled from town to town. I remembered his advice when I was a soldier stationed at the Chemical Corps at Fort McLellan in Alabama. Four Jewish soldiers attended services in Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia. The members of the congregation invited us to go to their Jewish country clubs (In 1952-1954 Jews could not join the existing country clubs. So they had to build their own). In Birmingham Alabama one well-to-do congregant had open house for Sunday morning for any Jewish person in the military to have a free breakfast. He had a special cook who came to his house every Sunday morning to make breakfast. I found the Southern Jews to be gracious and hospitable to the people in the armed service. And one other thing: my grandfather suggested that I always live in a Jewish community.

The Talmud says: "The one great requisite is character."

Ben Franklin says: "Glass, China and reputation are easily cracked and not easily mended."

In dealing with merchants in town he wanted to get the best prices, but he also believed that every merchant deserved to make a fair profit in his business. Before my family moved back to the Bronx my father would drive to the A&P in Monticello because they were cheaper than the grocers in Mountaindale. After my parents returned to New York City, and I was living with my grandparents, we shopped in Mountaindale because I did not have a driver's license. I don't think my grandfather was upset by those merchants who overcharged during World War II because he was very patriotic. But he still believed that it was the wrong thing to do. My grandfather always made it a point to remind me that he paid his bills on time. He was always courteous in dealing with the merchants because it was very important to him to have a "good name."

The Talmud says: "Before me" said the Lord, "there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; he that accomplishes good, will I reward accordingly."

Ben Franklin says: "I believe He is pleased and delights in the Happiness of those He has created; and since without virtue man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe He delights to see me virtuous."

My grandfather believed that it didn't matter what a person's religion was. He had friends who were not Jewish. His best friend was Porter whose son was named Sturges, who was friends with my father and Sturges' son, Steve, was a friend of mine. The only children my age on Church Road during the school year were Steve and his three sisters. For several years they lived about a mile and a quarter from my house. When I was about ten years old I went to play with Steve on their property. That was when I found out how other people live. They had a pond that had fish. One day, Steve's mother asked him to bring four fish in for dinner. Steve took out his rifle and we walked down to the raft. We pushed the raft away from the shore. He shot into the water and the blast from the rifle temporarily knocked out all the fish near the raft. The unconscious fish all floated to the top of the pond. Steve picked up four fish and threw them into a pail. That's the way he went fishing. There were fourteen property owners on Church Road and its two auxiliary roads. Eleven of the properties were owned by Jews. Only three were not. My grandfather was friendly with two of the three. There was only one non-Jewish property owner to whom my grandfather never spoke. I don't know why they never communicated with each other. With the other two men he was very friendly, but my grandmother never spoke with any of the women.

The Talmud says: "A man who has gold, but no knowledge - what has he?"

Ben Franklin says: "He that has a Trade has an Office of Profit and Honor."

My grandfather believed that the only way to be successful in America was through a college education. He did not want any of his five grandchildren to be farmers and/or hotelkeepers. He didn't have to worry on that account because none of us wanted to be farmers or hotelkeepers. My grandfather believed that success demands a college education, which leads to a profession. So he paid for my college education.

The Talmud says: "Who is rich? He that rejoices in his Portion."

Ben Franklin says: "Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot."

My grandfather believed that if he earned one dollar more than he spent and had a few dollars more left at the end of the year, he would be satisfied. He lived frugally because he used mostly everything he produced. On his farm his needs were few and he was easily satisfied with what he had.

The Talmud says: "Man, be ever soft and pliable like a reed, and not hard and unbending like a cedar."

Ben Franklin says: "Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning."

My grandfather was a good example of a person who tolerated changes. The world he came from in Europe was a lot different from the one he found in America. I was not born yet, so I am not knowledgeable about the changes in his life style. But I did see changes during the time that I lived with him. When he got his citizenship he voted straight Democratic Party because the local Democratic politicians helped get his citizenship papers. When one of his friends, a Republican, became a highway supervisor, my grand father decided to split his ticket.

My grandfather was not the most Orthodox Jew but he knew what Judaism was all about. He believed that Judaism was based on four propositions from several different sources:

1. Bible - Deuteronomy 6:4-7

Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

Benefit: He loved the Lord and believed he had a personal relationship with God.

2. Talmud - Ethics of the Fathers 4:17

There are three crowns. The crown of the Torah, And the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name excels them all.

Benefit: He had earned the respect of the Jews and non-Jews through Honesty and integrity.

3. Talmud - Hillel and "Do unto others"

Hillel was a man of saintly and noble character and disposition. A popular anecdote tells of a "stranger" (a person who was not a Jew) who asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Unperturbed, Hillel answered, "What is hateful to thee, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. This is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary; go and study it further." This version of the golden rule is believed by many to be a less utopian and more practical precept than the affirmative one to love one's neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18).

Benefit: He always was considerate of other people, especially the hotel guests. It was a good business practice as well a heartfelt gesture.

4. Talmud - A way of life

Benefit: Judaism is more than a religion. It is a way of life. It includes obligations to God as well as our obligations to our fellow human beings. The way of life and free will were never in conflict when my grandfather had to make a decision.

My grandfather was not a traditional Orthodox Jew, but he fulfilled his religious obligations as long as he lived. He passed away in the spring of 1952, one month after he completed saying kaddish for his oldest grandson.