May 23, 2024
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Dr. Ekstein and the Hand of God

Dr. Henry Ekstein is a story teller. Sit down with him and he is happy to share a story with you from his life and the lessons that he’s learned. He’s a man who believes everything happens for a reason, Min Hashamayim. Dr. Ekstein has felt the hand of God throughout his life, which includes living through five wars, becoming a highly sought-after consultant, and appearing in over 100 newspaper and magazine articles.

Now the Teaneck resident who came to Bergen County via Krakow, Siberia, Israel, and Queens has added a book about his life and work to his r?sum?. Dr. Ekstein’s book is entitled, Life Is a Miracle. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun described the book as “profound in its implications … [it] brings to life the words of the Torah and the ideas of our Sages in a way that helps resolve modern problems–personal, spiritual or business.” Rabbi Menahem Meier, founder of Frisch High School, called the book remarkable, engaging, and inspirational. “The book … will be a great source of inspiration in every Jewish home,” Rabbi Meier added.

Each chapter details a particular moment in Dr. Ekstein’s life when something amazing happened and his reaction to it. In the chapter made available to this writer, Dr. Ekstein shared a story from his time in Siberia during the early days of World War II.

One day, Dr. Ekstein was to transport explosives with Vladimir, a Russian engineer. Vladimir was drunk and called Dr. Ekstein a dirty Jew, while readying to throw a grenade at him. Paralyzed with fear and with the Shema on his lips, Dr. Ekstein expected death. Instead, the explosive went off in Vladimir’s hand. At this point, Dr. Ekstein quotes a Kabbalist, “Hashem’s salvation comes in a blink of an eye.”

Dr. Ekstein dedicated the book to his parents and Dr. Bernard Lander, z’l, (president and founder of Touro University). However, he wrote it “for his grandchildren and that they should bring it to their children and so on.” He got the idea of the book while in Jerusalem visiting his sister. While on the way to a supermarket, Dr. Ekstein stopped at a book store. A particular book piqued his interest. As he was flipping through its pages, he noticed the author had the same last name as he. It turns out the book was written by an uncle of Dr. Ekstein’s father, and his great-grandfather is mentioned on the flap. The book had just arrived in the store moments before Dr. Ekstein saw it–another moment he says that was Min Shamayim.

“Some people will start believing and some will say pure accident,” Dr. Ekstein says of his hopes for the book’s impact. However, one lesson he truly hopes that readers take is that oftentimes, “the message is hidden and not always evident.” This message, and the book in general, is one that every high school and college student can benefit from.

Dr. Ekstein arrived in Palestine via Iran. In fact, he was one of the “Tehran Children.” This is a group of Polish Jewish children, mainly orphans, who had escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland. Ekstein had been in an orphanage in Russia (his father had been taken away while in Siberia and his mother and sister were in Poland). Ekstein was evacuated to Tehran before finally reaching Palestine in 1942 via Aliyah Bet.

After receiving a degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from the Technion, Ekstein held a number of jobs. One was as a voluntary nighttime watchman during the War of Independence while being a teacher and dormitory director during the day. One night he was called to do a watch. Tired, hungry, and thirsty, Ekstein was reluctant to walk the three miles to do the watch, but his friend said he was greatly needed. When he returned to the dormitory the next day, Ekstein saw that it had been bombed and the inside destroyed. In fact, shrapnel was lying on his bed. While recalling the incident, he says, “If I were not already religious, what has happened in my life would have made me so.”

After coming to America in the late 1950s, Ekstein earned an MBA from Baruch College and a Ph.D. in Management from Columbia University. And then he started a revolution–in consulting that is! Ekstein was working at Touro University when he learned something that changed his life dramatically. He noticed that the president of Touro, Bernie Lander, was able to convince people of things by asking them rather than telling them something. “I noticed that he did this when he was in meetings with the faculty, and it gave the people more confidence.” Ekstein employed this Socratic-like method to the consulting world. “I worked with my win-win method for 40 years and not one project failed.” His method and success story was featured in over a hundred newspaper articles and magazine cover stories.

Ekstein has been through a lot in his life and solved many problems. However, he believes now as much as ever that everything is from God, and “you never know where help will come from, but it will come.” It is this faith that keeps Dr. Ekstein interested in solving problems. In fact, he lives for it. “When I see a problem, I bite into it, and I can’t let go till I solve it.”

By Larry Bernstein

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