April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Part 53

(Continued from previous week)

Epilogue (to the first edition of “My Stories”)

My problem with writing an epilogue is that I don’t know what an epilogue is. It just seemed to be an interesting-sounding word found in my old Random House Dictionary. I didn’t like the sound of “afterword.” I looked at a few books to see what other authors had used as the titles of their closing comments.

Ken Follett, in “On Wings of Eagles,” actually uses the word Epilogue, but he only uses it to describe what eventually happened to his characters. That was not what I had in mind. (By the way it was his story in that book that had given me the idea in the 1980s to lease a helicopter to rescue my son when he was under house arrest in Bolivia.)

Irving Stone, in “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” uses the very descriptive word “Note” for the title of his closing, in which he lists his acknowledgments, debts and expressions of gratitude. Well, I have done that already.

So, I just have to do my own thing.

There are really two points that I want to make in these final words.

But first, let me offer an apology. I apologize for having been too wordy when telling my stories, which is something of which I have often been accused of. To me, some of the occurrences, such as our escape from Germany, my stay in Korea with the army, my many years at PB, my boy/man story, are so amazing (at least to me), that I don’t see how I could spare the reader the details. Although a well-mannered listener is not going to walk away while I am talking, stifle a yawn, or check his watch to see whether it has stopped, the reader is free to hop, skip and jump, and tell me how fascinating he found every word. I’ll never know the difference.

The second point I wanted to make is regarding the factual accuracy of what I have written.

I have tried my best to tell the stories as I actually remember them, but memory can play tricks on you. What seems to me now an undisputed fact might have developed over the years to fit into my general outline. I hope that this is not (much) the case, but I seriously invite any reader to bring any obvious, as well as not so obvious, errors to my attention. I have tried to only relate that which I can document in one form or another, or where other participants were available (at least at the time of writing) to confirm or deny the facts. As a result, I decided not to relate one or two additional short stories since they do not measure up to this standard.

If, after trying my best to stick to the facts as I remember them, I nevertheless have failed here or there—mea culpa—chotosi—forgive me.

And finally, it was my grandson Gil Perl, one of my proofreaders, who suggested an addition to this epilogue. Not only did he do a thorough job of proofreading, but he also reminded me of a number of other vignettes, which he remembered having heard from me over the years, that I might add to fill in some gaps. Gil also suggested that I comment on anything from my life that I would redo or a decision I would change if I were given the chance. It was a very pointed question and one that I had thought about for years, but I had never had the guts to expose from my innermost self. I would think about it whenever certain comments were made to me by either a member of my family, or by an intimate acquaintance. And when Gil suggested that now, I decided this would be the opportunity to do so, since, after all, I have now practically laid myself bare before the reader anyhow with the stories of my life—the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

I am sure in hindsight there are other decisions that I would have made differently over the years, but there are three that are foremost in my mind and that I have eluded to above.

Having experienced the trials and tribulations of my own advanced age over the last few years, I would have treated my parents with more feeling and understanding. Their last years were physically very difficult for them although not due to any specific sickness, but rather due to normal deterioration resulting from advanced age. Regretfully, I did not have the sufficient knowledge and experience then to recognize that, although I was doing what I thought was then the best, it was not always the best—for them. One honors one’s parents by treating them the way they want to be treated, not the way we think they ought to be treated. I regret that the opportunity to honor them is gone; all I can do is to honor their memory. I also miss the lost opportunity to honor my parents by being able to stand up when they enter the room, or being able to fulfill their wishes without even them having to utter them.

There is a very minor happening that has been bothering me over the years. It was an act of omission when I was president of Cong. Shomrei Emunah in Englewood many years ago. It was Kol Nidre on the one Yom Kippur that I was president of the shul. It was customary that the president had the P’sicho every year. So, it was my turn now. There was a member who for many prior years had always been able to convince the president to relinquish the honor and to let him have P’sicho. This member had insulted me in public several times and I was not going to relinquish the honor to him. I saw him standing 20 feet away at the start of Kol Nidre. I should have been big enough and have gone over to him and invited him to join me in front of the Aron Hakodesh. But I didn’t think of it until it was too late and it has been bothering me ever since.

(This past Yom Kippur [2018] I had the opportunity to buy the same P’sicho and I gave it to a wheelchair-bound 97-year-old gentleman at the minyan I was at. It made me feel very good.)

The other action that I would have done differently is my relationship that we had with our children. Would I be given the opportunity to live my life over again, that would be the most important change. During their formative years I was too occupied with everything else other than spending enough time with Estie and Benjy. I was busy trying to take care of my wife during her illnesses and repeated surgeries, busy working long hours at Philipp Brothers, busy spending numerous hours each week volunteering for Shaare Zedek Hospital, busy trying to relax while working on my hobby of stamp collecting and always too busy to spend more time with our children. The fact that they both turned out the way they did, thanks to Hashem, is not because of us, but despite us. Learning from my children when they had their own families finally taught me how I should have acted 40 years earlier. Excuses and explanations I have by the bushel, but the facts do not change. I thank God that despite the lack of attention they experienced during their own formative years, they were able, together with their spouses, to improve upon their parents’ shortcomings.

And finally, I thank Hashem for giving me the full life I have led, the loving family that He was gracious enough to give me and the adequate means with which to help those in need.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

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