July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The American Dream: A Tribute to My Father

The following is an excerpt from the author’s hesped for his father,
Jacob Shayowitz, z”l.

My father, a”h was born in the Carpathian Mountains region, which is present day Ukraine. He was always proud of his hometown, which had a tiny Jewish population post-WWII.

My father’s degree was in journalism, but in those days, Jews were not allowed to become journalists, so interestingly, he somehow became a botanist, which is basically a plant biologist.

In spite of the fact that his passion was writing, and he committed years to it, he pivoted and became highly successful as a botanist. He very quickly rose in stature and he soon managed an entire division of people under him. This resourcefulness would prove to be a huge recurring theme in my father’s life.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. in January 1974 with a few belongings and literally $300 in their pocket. My parents were 27 years old when they came to this country. They had a 2-year-old baby, my mother was pregnant with her second, and they had no idea what they would be doing. Their sole focus was to help raise their children in a frum environment. Despite my father’s success in Ukraine, his top-tier degrees and his stature, these brought him nothing here in America.

Not speaking a word of English, my father got his first job in a sweater factory. He told me that once, when one of the machines broke in the factory, there was no one who could repair it. Everything came to a screeching halt, and while all the other workers were happy to take the time off, my father asked the manager if he could take a look, and he was able to fix it instantly. After a very short time, his own boss in the factory kept telling him that he was too smart and too overqualified to work there and encouraged my father to find something better.

After a few more menial intensive labor jobs, and with the incredible support of my mother, they somehow scraped together a few dollars and decided to open a little convenience store as they saw there was nothing like that in their area in Flatbush, an “up and coming” neighborhood in Brooklyn. But to open this convenience store was a huge undertaking. But my father was so creative. With his brothers and my mother, they literally made some makeshift shelves and got some second-hand cases which they used to display basic grocery products.

There was no Google and my father had no idea about the Yellow Pages or any other way to even get basic information about products to sell, but he had an idea … he spent the days following the trucks of the suppliers from stores in Boro Park or Williamsburg to their warehouses, and there he was able to negotiate delivery to his store.

My parents had the most incredible partnership, they were both willing to do whatever it took to earn a few dollars and to support their family. Behind the scenes, my mother had the ideas and suggestions and encouraged my father, who undertook the tasks to execute them. The grocery store thrived, and my parents decided to sell it and open a kids’ clothing store.

A few years later, they sold that business and opened a shoe store. As with each endeavor, my mother dreamed it and encouraged my father, and with creativity and resourcefulness, he executed the vision successfully with my mother by his side.

Each day, from the early morning, my parents worked tirelessly in the shoe store, and after he had enough, my father would walk up and down the avenue, admiring the changing landscape of the community and thinking of his next venture. Again, with the support and selflessness of my mother he went for his real estate license and started selling real estate for an office down the block from the shoe store so he could still help my mother as much as possible. From there, he grew his real estate career and eventually opened his own real estate and mortgage brokerage. In addition, he opened a travel agency and then an appraisal company, to name a few of the many ventures my father and mother did. I vividly remember my mother holding up the sheetrock and wall panels as my father banged them in one by one. They literally built every business by hand, together.

My father was so resourceful with everything, often repurposing a tool or piece of material to be a makeshift for something else he imagined. He was not only masterful with his hands to build things, but he was also very artistically inclined. I remember in third or fourth grade, I had to write a book report about Gonzo the Chicken from the Muppets, and of course I didn’t say anything to anyone until the night before it was due. My report was horrible. But instead of telling me, “This is what you get for doing things at the last minute,” my father stayed up late into the night with me and sketched the perfect cover for my report on Gonzo the Chicken, which is the only reason I got an A+.

He was 5’3″, an unassuming man, but so strong in every sense of the word. I would love watching people shake my father’s hand, each shaking their head in disbelief, wondering where that strength of grip came from, from that tiny little physique. His strength of character was something else that I and many will never forget. He was determined. He was persistent. He was unwavering. In my entire life thus far, I don’t think I have met a person who was as strong as my tiny father.

I had the tremendous zechus of working hand-in-hand with my father for many years since I returned from my year in Israel. After being a mortgage broker for so many years, when I joined the business he finally decided to apply to become a banker, which was his dream. Everyone told him not to bother. His application kept getting rejected. Each time, he diligently sat at his desk for hours into the evening, fixing whatever ridiculous nonsensical complaint the banking department had, and repackaged everything right back to them. Everything was methodically documented and detailed. This happened over and over, with them expecting him to give up, but he never did, so they had no other choice but to finally grant him the license.

I recall one day when these two Italian guys came into my father’s office and tried to shake him down. They wanted to force him to pay them to clean his storefront windows. My father didn’t flinch or back down and told them to get out of the office and never come back. After, he turned to me and told me, “Don’t tell your mother.”

And that wasn’t the only weight and burden he shouldered, often repeating the same line to me when we were alone: “Don’t tell your mother, I don’t want her to worry.” He loved my mother so much and just wanted to make her happy. He loved all of us. He sacrificed anything and everything for his family. He never asked anyone for anything. He truly didn’t need anything.

He was a modest and ehrlich man. That’s the thing I often hear from people about my father, how honest and ehrlich he was.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to hear it from others, I truly witnessed it firsthand for years and years. No one ever had a bad word to say about my father, but even more remarkable was that my father never had a bad word to say about anyone, ever. He never gossiped or spoke lashon hara about anyone. He gave his time and advice to anyone in need. People would call him for hours and days, but he never asked them for a penny. He rose to the most prominent positions in the real estate industry in Brooklyn and in New York State. Truly remarkable for someone who started with nothing and had to reinvent his entire life anew. When he represented any shul, yeshiva or rabbi in business, he always waived his commission or fee, and when it wasn’t possible, he took the commission and gave it right back to them in full. And any of his employees who worked on those jobs, he paid them in full out of his own pocket.

Another strength in middah was his ability to greet people warmly. He always had a smile on his face. Always. You could never tell when he was bothered, in pain or troubled. And when he saw his grandchildren and kenaina horah
great-grandchildren, his face lit up to eternity. He would always ask about the kids and schep nachas from anything and everything they did, including their mischievous acts.

One of the biggest joys of his life was when he finished Daf Yomi. He went to a siyum and decided he was going to do it, and he did it. Again, with the support and encouragement of my mother, he did it. Every daf. Every day. The entire Shas. An immigrant, who never stepped foot into a yeshiva as a boy. He was proud but never boastful about that, or any of his other charitable acts. I did the bookkeeping for many years; I saw many of the checks he wrote to tzedaka, even at times when there was little to no money in the business.

My father (and mother) truly represent the notion of achieving the “American Dream.” They opened their first business within 18 months of coming to America. They bought their first investment property within two years of being here and went on to accomplish so much, in a quiet and unassuming manner. We never knew if they had $5 in their bank account (which was sometimes the case) or $50,000 in their pockets. For them, it was only about creating a life for their children to maximize shomrei Torah and mitzvos. I will forever incorporate the life lessons my father continues teaching me. May Yaakov Yehuda ben Gedalya be a meilitz yosher and continue to inspire all of us to lead a life of true fulfillment.


Shmuel Shayowitz (NMLS#19871) is a respected real estate and finance executive, writer, speaker, coach, and advisor. As the president and chief lending officer of Approved Funding, a leading national mortgage banker and direct lender, Shmuel has facilitated over $2 billion of mortgages over the past two decades. Shmuel’s expertise spans various licenses and certifications, including specialized mortgage underwriter, licensed real estate agent, and accredited coach. His market insights and experience are highly sought after in the real estate, finance, and coaching industries. In addition, Shmuel is a seasoned real estate investor and property manager, facilitating thousands of rentals nationwide. Shmuel can be reached at www.approvedfunding.com/shmuel.

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