DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 20: Peace!

By Ray Schultz

Americans awoke on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918 to the sound of church bells and gunfire. Germany had surrendered and people ran into the streets, drunk on “100 percent-proof, government-bonded patriotism.” And where were our junk mail pioneers? Buckley was in Chicago, as pleased as he could be. Peace meant the paper quotas would be lifted.

Edward Proctor was at his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. But he had little time to celebrate. His client, the John C. Winston Co., had summoned him to Philadelphia, and now he had to get to the train station past mobs in the streets.

But he was happy to go, for Winston, the country’s largest Bible publisher, was the kind of client he wanted. Of course, Winston also sold a book titled, “Sexual Knowledge: What every young man and every young woman should know,” that it sent in a plain brown wrapper. But now it had hired an historian and a military analyst to write a book titled, “History of the World War.” Proctor had to help sell—by mail—a book that was not yet written. He went home that night with an order for several million names.

Meanwhile, the balance in the Guild office had shifted. Mr. Guild was spending more time at his home in Maine. He hunted and enjoyed his breakfasts of steak and fried potatoes. Proctor ran the place, although Guild’s wife Addie was listed as president.

Louis Victor Eytinge heard about the war’s end in his prison cell, where he was quietly hoping that outsiders would spring him. Private detective William J. Pinkerton argued that Eytinge was innocent of murder (“his criminal bent was not in that direction”). And a former warden said he had reformed.

“To my personal knowledge Eytinge’s money has paid for milk and eggs for men who were too sick to eat prison fare. Eytinge’s money has paid for sending paroled prisoners home to die. He has given men going out of prison money to start life on. He has paid transportation to employment, even across a Continent. In doing for others Eytinge has found himself.”

Eytinge wrote that “I am reasonably certain of coming east some time during the winter.” But he didn’t make it out that winter, nor the following summer. Instead, he ended up back in the “lunger’s yard” at the Arizona Penitentiary at Florence.

“YES—I’ve been sick,” he wrote. “That’s one of the reasons I gave up the editorial end of the old POSTAGE..I want and need WORK to keep me upspirited, to keep me grinning and growing. I’ve time schedules that will permit me to take THREE MORE CLIENTS—And no more.”

It was harder to stay upspirited as the years dragged on. But Gov. T.E. Campbell finally heeded the call of the advertising industry, and on the morning of Dec. 30, 1922, Eytinge, age 43, walked through the gate of Florence. He wasn’t exonerated—he apparently was paroled. But he was free. And he had a $6,000-a-year job waiting for him with John Service Inc., a producer of personalized mail campaigns, in New York.

“There’s a moral in the tale of Louis Victor Eytinge,” a man wrote to Postage. “It’s this: if a man in jail, suffering with a supposedly incurable disease and existing amidst surroundings that sap all initiative and inspiration, can win his freedom, win his health and win a place in the sun—what heights are not possible to you and me and the other man, out here in the open?” He concluded with an even more pertinent comment: “It vindicates your claim that ‘Anything that can be sold, can be sold by mail.’”

Chapter 21: The Inertia Plan

The Havana Kid: In the Ring and On The Ropes With Boxing’s Greatest Journeyman

By Ray Schultz

“Sure, he ain’t going to last long. He ain’t going to last like you and me, Jerry.”— Fighter in Ernest Hemingway’s 50 Grand

Introduction

Angel Robinson Garcia, the Cuban boxer, rarely discussed politics, but he did one night outside the Solar Gym in New York. “I like Fidel,” he said. ” Some day I return to Cuba.”

This was more than his manager, a Puerto Rican named Oscar Seary, could bear. “When you get off the boat, they’ll have a sign that says, ‘Welcome, Garcia,’” he snapped.

The year was 1977, and few Cuban exiles would say they liked Fidel Castro, but that’s not what Oscar was getting at. What he meant was that the socialist paradise would not embrace a washed-up pug like Garcia, with his flattened nose, mounds of scar tissue and gaps where he once had teeth. 

At his best, this wreck had held his own with Roberto Duran,  but now he could barely survive a Baltimore computer programmer named Johnny Gant. Garcia lost every round to the programmer—all he could do was butt him. And even bouts like this were getting hard to come by. 

That, not Cuba, was the real cause of the tension this night. There were no fights, no road trips, not an ounce of relief, and Oscar blamed Garcia. “Drinking is all he wants to do,” he said, “fucking around with women, smoking pot.” He turned to Garcia: “You can’t lose any more fights.”  

We’d heard it all before. To ease things, someone suggested that Oscar “do” Garcia—mimic his boxing style. A small man with a mustache and a broad smile, Oscar rolled his hips and moved his arms up and down like the poles on a carousel, to howls of laughter. Then he left to get his car, and I waited with the sulking Garcia. It was hot, we had a long ride ahead of us and we were out of beer. Still, I endured this every night, for I was Garcia’s biographer. I was there to record what he did and absorb the central lesson of his life: that greatness is not always defined by victory.

PR Flacks Then And Now

By Ray Schultz

When I started out in business journalism 30 some-odd years ago, PR flacks were viewed strictly as an annoyance. 

They called on the phone incessantly to tell you about some “news” or other, but there was no guarantee that the U.S. Postal Service would deliver the press release by the time they called. 

When it was a big story, they might messenger it over. But I once saw my boss at DM News, the legendary Joe Fitz-Morris, get red in the face and berate a PR person when Ad Age received an announcement before we did.

This was the same Fitz-Morris who reveled in breaking scoops on the World Of Advertising radio show and in DM News.

Another irritant was corrections. Usually, they were about context—we did tend to sensationalize things at times. 

The flacks would call to hector us and demand redress. I was intimidated by them, but not Fitz-Morris. 

He would tell them to write a letter to the editor, and in one instance snarled, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I’ll defend to your death your right to say it.”

As for more minor errors, our policy was that if we spelled the name wrong, that was the way it should be spelled. 

Soon, I learned that PR people were obstacles to finding the news: The minute someone hired them, you lost direct access. 

One of my best sources sold his firm to a larger outfit. We were about to exchange a bear hug at a conference when one PR flack blocked him and another physically restrained me. 

Oh, you poor old fool. When I returned to the rigors of daily journalism a few years ago, things were different. 

Instead of the phone calls, I now receive dozens of PR emails a day. 

Many of them start with the daunting word EMBARGO in the subject line, alerting me that the news won’t be live for weeks, or even months, in some cases.  

These people are taking a big chance on my limited clerical skills. I suggest that Gmail set up a folder called “Embargo,” right  next to Promotions. 

Worse yet is when they offer you a report of some kind. To even access it, you have to first prove you’re not a robot, picking out the CAPCHA pictures that have stairs or motorcycles in them.

I’ve concluded that this is some kind of digital dementia test. 

Then you have to formally request the report, specifying your company size, number of employees and revenue, details I don’t know and wouldn’t share even if I did. 

Within minutes of the request, the phone rings—it’s a salesperson noting that I had downloaded the report. I always explain that I’m a reporter, not a candidate for a $600K software package. What a waste of his time and mine.

That said, it’s amazing how much of the work PR people try to do for you these days—it’s almost like the chef who does everything but chew the food. They provide easy-to-read synapses in cover emails, which are often easier to read than the actual press releases. 

They spot typos in real time. And they put in case studies from end users, something we were always after in more innocent days.  Not that they trust reporters–they often record interviews, in both audio and video forms.

I must be getting soft. It’s amazing that I’m so fond of many of the PR flacks I have known, then and now. 

Arlo Guthrie Introduces ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

The Newport Navalog, July 21, 1967

By Ray Schultz

First of all, it’s raining, and things are getting kind of soggy on Festival Field. Second, Joan Baez is sitting in the next seat eating a sandwich, the Goodyear Blimp is flying overhead, and an English group, the Young Tradition, is performing on stage. With that combination of props, it’s hard enough to concentrate on anything, particularly in the middle of a wet Sunday afternoon. And let’s face it, you do feel conspicuous, shall we say, in your conservative Navy haircut.

You’re just about ready to pack up shop and leave when Judy Collins comes on stage and makes the following announcement:

“As you know, all of us in the folk music scene were trained and influenced by one man more than any other, Mr. Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.”

The crowd starts clapping and stamping. 

“It’s impossible for Woody to be with us at this time, but we have to carry on his work and ideas, a remarkable young man, who toured Japan with me last month, his son, Mr. Arlo Guthrie.”

More applause, and some people are standing up. 

“All I can say is his creativity boggles the mind. Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Arlo Guthrie!”

With applause thundering the whole of Festival Field, a skinny ragamuffin-looking boy walks on stage, toting an ordinary folk guitar. He’s dressed in faded blue jeans, a beat-up jacket, and an old felt ranger’s hat, out from which his long curly hair projects on either side like two enormous mouse-ears. 

Everyone in the crowd starts shouting ‘Alice! Alice!” and the young skinny troubadour on stage says: “You can yell all you want, I’m not gonna sing it.” Then, as he’s tuning the guitar, “You’re probably wonderin’ why I am gonna sing it again, after singing it yesterday. Well, I figure if I sing it enough, you’ll get sick of it and I won’t have to sing it so much any more then. I hope you get good and wet.”

With that, he begins a simple melody line with a voice not quite as raspy as Bob Dylan’s:

You can get anything you want,

at Alice’s restaurant

You can’t get anything you want,

at Alice’s restaurant

Just walk right in, around the back, bout a

Half a mile from the railroad track

You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.

Then, strumming the guitar lightly, he begins a talking jag that lasts for something like 25 minutes. 

“This here is the ‘Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part Two,’ as oppose to the ‘Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part One,’ or as oppose to any version of Alice’s restaurant you might have heard, or any Alice’s restaurant you might have been in across the country. The name of the restaurant is not Alice’s restaurant, Alice just works there, but that’s just the name of the song, because it is about Alice, and that’s why I named the song Alice’s Restaurant.”

Well, it goes on about his being rejected for the draft after being convicted of littering in Stockbridge Mass. on Thanksgiving day. Twenty-five minutes of it, and each line funnier than the last. Towards the end of the song, he suggests that when faced with the draft, you should “‘enter the Army psychiatrist’s office, singing the chorus of Alice,” and “you’ll probably get rejected.”

“If three people go in and sing Alice’s restaurant, he chants, “then they might think it’s an or-gan-i-zation. If 50 people go in singing the song, they’re gonna think it’s a m o v e m e n t, and friends, it is a movement, it’s the “Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part Two” movement. I’d like you to sing it with me. With feeling. We’ll just wait till comes around again on the guitar. Here it comes.”

The crowd starts singing until he stops and tells them they’re doing terribly and should start again. Finally, he does the last note and chord of the epic, and then it explodes! The crowd gives a thundering standing ovation that lasts for ten minutes, George Wein invites him back for the evening concert, and you know, you feel, that here in front of your eyes is standing the man who will be the next king of folk music. The Arlo Guthrie Masacree Parts One, Two, Three and Four movement!

Later that night he climaxes the 1967 Newport Folk Festival with another performance of the song, this time with Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Oscar Brand, Theodore Bikel and the rest joining in on the last chorus. You leave Festival Field with “Alice’s Restaurant” on your brain. Martha Matzke, a Providence Journal reporter, says: “He’s beautiful.” The New York Times calls him the new “festival hero.” Arlo Guthrie is here!

The young man who created that very remarkable song and experience for an audience of 15,000, is the 20 year-old son of Woody Guthrie, the rambling bard who wrote and sang so eloquently of the problems faced by the dust-bowl okies during the great depression 30 years ago. Since the early 1950s, Woody has been in a Brooklyn hospital, with Huntington’s Chorea, a progressively worsening disease of the nervous system. Friday night, the entire cast of festival performers sang Woody’s “This Land Is Your Land,” in honor of his 55th birthday.

Then here is young Arlo—with his own genius, and the only authentic claim among folk singers to being one of the “children of Woody Guthrie.”

In an interview with a Navy reporter Sunday night, he was asked how Woody feels about his son’s career.” He’s all for it,” young Guthrie said. When asked how his father is doing these days, he said: “He’s alive. That’s all I can say.”

Arlo was born in Coney Island, N.Y. and grew up in Massachusetts. He started playing the guitar when he was about six years old. He started performing professionally about two years ago, and has already toured England and Japan. 

He said that the visits to his father by such top folk performers as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Jack Elliot, impressed him deeply.  Besides his father, he lists Jack Elliot as the greatest influence on his writing and singing. 

At this points, he has no plans for electrification of his music, or for any protest singing. 

“I plan to stay away rom the marching,” he said. 

He was genuinely pleased at his reception at the folk festival, and “feels great” about his first record album, which will be released by Reprise next month. 

Like his father, he’s done his share of rambling around the country. He has a sister who is currently performing bossa nova music. 

His repertoire includes blues and country music and the ‘Alice’ type of thing. 

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues And Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 33: Junk Mail Babylon

By Ray Schultz

Despite the sleaze that surrounded it , junk mail started to attract notice on Madison Avenue. By client demand, the J. Walter Thompson ad agency hired its first full-time direct mail copywriter: Ed McLean, a literary type from Chicago who had knocked around in New Orleans and thought he was applying for an editorial job when Red Dembner hired him as a direct mail writer at Newsweek. He was treated with the utmost disrespect at JWT.

“Direct mail was shit in the ad world,” McLean said later. “It was not commissionable. When creating TV or radio spots, you could make money even for production costs. But in mail, the costs were very low, so you couldn’t make any money on that.”

At JWT, the main direct mail copywriter was “an old hack living in Montclair,” McLean recalled. “She would put out old copy when she came with an assignment. They’d scratch out the old date and recycle it.”

Worse yet, the designers “didn’t like to design for mail,” he continued. “A designer would hold it up like this”—McLean then held his nose—“and let it drop to the floor.”

Finally, he had to go to the “animal trainer in charge of the copywriters” to get a seating assignment every day. “I wandered around for six months,” he said. “I never had an office. I had a manual typewriter on a dolly.”

McLean went on to write thousands of letters as a freelancer, like the award-winning one he crafted on diesel cars for Mercedes-Benz (‘Forget it, Heinz,’ the experts told me. ‘It just won’t sell here.’

**

Among the “legitimate” users of  this sanitized medium were a plethora of credit cards companies. This started in 1950 when the new Diners’ Club card was mailed unsolicited to several thousand businessman. The card was cardboard, and had the names of its few participating restaurants on the back, wrote Matty Simmons, the press agent for Diners ‘Club, and later publisher of the National Lampoon.

In one typical promotion, mailed to everyone, Diners‘ Club  wrote, This invitation is extended to (Blank for name)

by Mr. Allred Bloomingdale, President THE DINERS’ CLUB INC.

This meant it would extend credit to anyone who happened to open the envelope. 

The letter went to say, Your credit standing and financial rating have placed you on the select list of individuals to whom we are limiting the mailing of this invitation for Diners’ Club membership. 

But then it added, The enclosed application is transferable to members of your immediate family or associates sharing your business responsibilities, if you now have a Diners’ Club Credit Card.

Within a few years, American Express entered the credit card field, with Lester Wunderman’s help, after a failed attempt to buy Diners’ Club. Oh, it was a nasty business: Diners’ Club retaliated in kind when its take-one displays in stores were mysteriously replaced with American Express take-ones, Simmons wrote. These cards were followed by Visa and MasterCard. Banks saturated the market, mailing 100 million cards to anyone whose name they could get their hands on, including dogs and dead people, some joked. 

“In your mail box or even under your door, often unwanted and unwelcomed, they keep coming—a maze of bright new, plastic credit cards to be heaped on top of all the others you already have,” the New York Times wrote on July 8, 1969. 

This practice ended in 1970 when Congress prohibited the mailing of unsolicited credit cards. Banks and other credit issuers tightened up their credit-checking, and a global business was built.

But another group of junk mailers rejected the conventional marketing wisdom that the best customers for any offer were people with money and credit. They chose to target the financially strapped and bankrupt—the credit poor. 

There were several variations on the basic scheme to bilk the poor of the little money they had.. One was the secured credit card offer, as perpetrated by firms like Metro West Financial Group. This company notified hundreds of thousands of people by postcard that they were preapproved for credit, including “bank loans, department store credit cards, and a MasterCard or Visa bank credit card.”

That would be quite an attractive offer if true, but people who responded received none of that. What they got, after shelling out $48 for a 900 number telephone call and another $50 later, was a list of banks offering secured credit cards—a list that could have been obtained for $1.50. And it omitted the fact that a person needs to post a deposit for a secured credit card—whatever its value is. 

But the promotion was successful by any standard. Roughly 15,000 suckers coughed up $1.4 million over four months, half of it via a 900 telephone number. 

Then there was the gold card offer from Federal Bankcard of Santa Barbara, California. “Final attempt,” its postcards state. “We are trying to reach you. Your $5,000 credit limit has been approved. Call NOW.”

With this offer, it was possible for people, those who could ill afford it, to spend over $100 on various 900 number calls and other charges before finding out that the “gold card” entitled them only to shopping privileges in a catalog with limited merchandise. One childlike victim ended up with a $900 phone bill. The potential profit could be seen  by the fact that this offer went to 15 million people. 

The basic scams were bad enough. Even worse was the inclusion of potential victims’ names on mailing lists known in the business as “Credit Derog” lists. One was the Credit Alert Database—10 million to 15 million people “more than 60 days past due on one or more credit cards,” a promotion said. Another was the Credit Reject Database—consumers who had been refused credit. 

It was never determined whether credit bureaus and banks themselves had released Credit Derog lists, or if they had slipped out the back doors of a computer service bureaus.  Either way, there was no dearth of new exciting offerings, like the Transactional Financial Services Derogatory Credit list of 11 million people with one or more derogatory credit lines.” Then there was the ultimate resource: the Unskilled Urban Fringe—people with “low or no income, only occasional low-wage employment, little education, many with no mobility; old housing, multiple families living together.”

In 1967, Lester Wunderman conferred a certain legitimacy on junk mail by lumping it together with other media under the name direct marketing. And, as much as anywone, he turned a business backwater into a global phenomenon.

But some people already knew there was more to the business than direct mail–like the trio of Monroe Caine, David L. Ratke and Herman Liebenso. They used print ads to offer a chemically impregnated car-cleaning mitt called the ROLL-A-SHNE, claiming it was developed by the General Electric Company, tested by the U.S. Army and Navy and endorsed by Reader’s Digest.

It was a pack of lies. The Federal Trade Commission forced all three men to sign a consent order agreeing to cease advertising falsely “the quality, composition, characteristics, performance, endorsement, and guarantee” of the mitt.

The copywriting genius Caine wasn’t through: A decade later, he was convicted of 72 counts of mail and wire fraud for his role in peddling the “Sperry Unitron,” a device that supposedly increased gasoline mileage. Caine wrote that the Unitron was a new invention by one of America’s leading scientists (co-developer of synthetic tires and power brakes).

Also not true: The unknown inventor worked out of his garage, an appellate court noted when refusing to overturn their convictions.

Worse, there was “no mention that the Unitron was actually a can of engine detergent which needed to be replaced with every tankful of gas rather than a solid device which would not need replenishment,” the court went on. Not that it mattered: “Customers failed to receive their Unitron, even after their checks were deposited in Sperry’s account,” the court concluded.

Caine and his colleagues drew four years in the slammer for that scheme to defraud. They appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, not even bothering to deny that their advertising was false—what they objected to was the fact that one alleged fraudulent claim, that refunds would be issued to buyers who weren’t satisfied, was not specified in the grand jury indictment along with 12 other charges. Caine and company lost in the appellate court, then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The Court of Appeals would have us accept, as a finding of fact, that the Grand Jury made twelve specific charges as set forth in paragraph 4 of the indictment, and did not include a charge with respect to refunds because they considered that it would be redundant, to include it ‘among others.’”

Later, Caine worked with a career con man named Norman Chanes, whose mail order firms Encore House was raided by postal inspectors after several thousand consumers complained about binoculars and other products sold by the company. Chanes and Caine signed a consent decree with the FTC, agreeing to pay $250,000 in consumer redress and $100,000 in civil penalties. As legend had it, Caine had to agree not to write direct marketing copy for five years as part of one of his plea deals.

But there were worse offenders than Monroe Caine out there. 

In 1983, an entity called Farragut Research offered an extensive collection of pornography to anyone who signed up for a “scientific research survey”—for a fee, of course. You have been chosen for this survey because you are known to be of better-than-average intelligence and to have exceptional sexual prowess, the direct mail letter said.

But it warned: You must make every effort to keep these products out of the hands of children, even though children play a large role in the actual films and tapes.

When queried by a reporter, a postal inspector said, “I think we’ve gotten some complaints on that”—not for the child pornography, but over non-delivery of the products. It dawned on the reporter that this was a sting designed to entrap people into purchasing kiddie porn.

The reporter went for a get-aquatinted visit with postal inspector Sherry Treuax, who had a gun in a shoulder holster on her desk, at the Post Office building on Ninth Ave. in New York. Another inspector, Bob Mignonya, came in and expressed satisfaction about a criminal case they had just closed.

“As of now, they’re convicted felons,” he said of the perpetrators.

“Do you know about Ira Smolev?” Inspector Treux asked. 

She produced some clippings from the Newark Star Ledger about Ira Smolev, purveyor of the Panama Ceiling Fan, which “barely stirred the sir,” and the Tilt-Top Table and Bavarian Beer Stein, which were also not as advertised. In addition to bringing in cash orders, these offerings generated sucker lists that could be rented out. But these were the least of his offenses.

Smolev’s Perth Amboy, New Jersey warehouse had burned down in mysterious circumstances. And now he was being probed because cosmetics donated by Revlon to the Association for the Help of Retarded Children had ended up in his warehouse, and he was marketing them by mail.

In 1984, Smolev copped a plea to one count each of mail fraud, conspiracy and interstate transportation of property taken by fraud. And, in a separate case, the he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, resulting from his promotions for Tilt Top Table and other inadequate products. Smolev, who was injured in a car crash around this time, never served a day in jail.

Of course, Smolev and Caine had serious rivals in trying to shake a few bucks loose from the unsuspecting—including some from far away. 

In 1990, fortunate individuals received a letter from Chief Tunde Dosumbu of Lagos, Nigeria, wrote asking for permission to “remit $24.5 million U.S. dollars into your company’ or private accounts.” 

The authors claimed to be involve with Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. “By virtue of our positions and in collaborations with our able computer analyst, we were able to process thee second-phase payment of $15.1 million,” they stated. 

The rub was that “we can not risk having such huge amount of money in our local accounts considering our salary base.”

To prove the legality of the transfer,” they asked for “four copies of the person’s letterhead, along with bank account numbers, invoice copies, and telephone and fax numbers. 

The letter concluded, “For the fact that we are working with our corporation an also to avoid scandal, we advise all issues regarding the transaction be kept in absolute secretary. Otherwise, we stand the chance of loosing our jobs, pensions and gratuities after years of meritous service to the government.” 

Another letter claiming to be from the same  company offered $6 million for allowing the sender to temporarily deposit $20 million in the recipient’s bank account. All they needed was the bank account number and some letterhead.

The “Nigerian Prince” scam was lampooned on late-night TV and became part of American folklore.  Thus, the junk mail business thus attained a new notoriety.

But the old-timers weren’t there to enjoy it–they had been shuffled off the stage and replaced by younger talent. Max Sackheim retired at age 70 the same year Homer Buckley died. Sackheim’s son Sherman bought the Sackheim agency with three other people, but left after a few years, wishing that his father had sold his share of the Book of the Month Club for what it was worth.

“Would I be sitting in my little ticky tacky house in Clearwater, Florida, waiting for my little Social Security check?” he asked in 1995. “It would be worth $100 million now between me and my brother, but I can’t eat more than three meals a day.”

John Stevenson retired, too, but It was easier for him because his wife was wealthy “You’ll have a nice life, but you’ll never make much money,” he said over coffee in their vast apartment on Fifth Ave. in 1997. “It’s a small business.”

Stevenson then revealed the enduring formula for junk mail copy from the days of J.M. Pattee to Ira Smolev: “It’s like the old story about the clergyman who had so many converts. He was asked his secret. He said, ‘I tell them what I’m gonna tell them, then I tell them, then I tell them what I told them.’”

The Manhattan Shuffle

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XIV–Epilogue

By Ray Schultz

There is a reason this account stops in 1974 and does not continue as a full-fledged history: I had a bad, chopped-up article appear in the New York Times Magazine that fall, which I now find mortifying. and after that gave up on the idea of doing anything more—there was no demand, and I would have lost access in any case. This narrative mostly consists of verbatim notes I wrote up in 1973-74 on cheap yellow paper, then retyped into my computer over the last couple of years, editing along the way.

I don’t present this as a great work of journalism. But it’s a document of sorts– it tells the story of my encounters with the Hasidim at a particular moment in history: the era of Watergate and the Yom Kippur war, and the aging of the great Rebbes. 

Almost 50 years have passed, and there are postscripts to several of the stories. 

Samuel Shrage died of a heart attack in 1976. There were charges within Hasidic ranks that the African-American ambulance attendants took their sweet time and let him die. I couldn’t believe that, but I was greatly saddened by his death.

A summer or two later, I was in CBGB’s, the Bowery punk-rock club. As Patti Smith was shrieking onstage, I ran into David the Lubavitch dropout. He was very unfriendly, and said, “Stop asking me how I am.” I concluded based on his attire and the venue that he had not returned to Lubavitch. 

In 1979,  the Satmar Rebbe died at age 92. Given the state of his health, I suspected the Satmar were already used to getting along without him. Later, I  learned that the movement split into two groups, with different rabbinical leadersship.

There also was change at Lubavitch, although it took longer to unfold. In 1991, the Rebbe and his caravan of cars were driving back to Crown Heights from Montefiore Cemetery, when the last car in the procession hit and killed Gavin Cato, a seven year-old African-American child. This precipitated riots and conflict in which a young Jewish man, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed to death. These tragic events exacerbated stresses that had existed as far back as the 1960s. 

The Rebbe died in 1994. And the Lubavitch movement also split into two groups, at least intellectually—those who believed the late Rebbe was the messiah and those didn’t. I would have been in the latter group.

The Bobover Rebbe died in 2000, and his movement, too, eventually broke into two groups.

Historians may uncover the truth behind these splits.. But I have my own theory: that the job in each case had become too big for one man.

The passing of the Satmar, Lubavitch and Bobover Rebbes marked the end of an epoch. These were the leaders who escaped the Holocaust and made their way to the United States. There they pulled together small groups of survivors and new adherents who had nowhere else to turn, helping them get a toehold in America and in so doing rebuilt their shattered communities until they were more robust than ever, in the face of grave poverty and other problems, all the while giving tirelessly of themselves as they entered old age. Hopefully, no future Rebbes will face such harrowing challenges. 

That’s why this account is called The Last Rebbes. 

Of course, other Rebbes performed similar feats. And both younger and older Rebbes continue to lead their congregations today. But Schneerson, Teitelbaum and Halberstam were giants of a type that surely marks them apart.

As for me, you might wonder if this experience turned me into a Hasid.  It didn’t. A skeptic, a bohemian and a hack, I could never submit to the kind of regimented religious life pursued by Hasidic Jews: My brief taste of it convinced me of that. 

But I did feel drawn to Jewish identity, on whatever level–my wife and I would sometimes show up at Friday night services at a Conservative synagogue, just to feel like we belonged.

Then there were the political issues.

I had long been bothered by the Haredi’s outsize political influence in Israel, and the Orthodox rabbinate’s power to determine who is a Jew and to pass on the legitimacy of marriages. It’s one thing to voluntarily choose a religious way of life—it’s another to be compelled to observe even small elements of it. Surely, there must be room in the Jewish tent for converts, non-believers, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, individuals whose fathers were Jewish but not their mothers, gays, lesbians, the transgendered and other outliers. 

Then there is the tendency of the Orthodox in the U.S. to support Republican candidates and to align on issues with the religious right, all of which goes against my grain. 

Late in 1974, I was on the Broadway Limited train from New York to Chicago, when men wearing black coats and hats boarded in Ohio. Not Hasidim—Amish. I did a double take. My traveling companion scarcastically said. “There’s your next article,”

Please, no—I’d had enough of black-coated religious groups for a time and was in fact fleeing New York to escape the probable reaction to my article in Crown Heights. But one thing became clear as the years went by and I grew even more ambivalent about the politics and my own belief structure: I missed the Hasidim. 

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

Part XI

Part XII

Part XIII

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XIII

By Ray Schultz

It was the evening of Thursday, Aug. 8, 1974. The Lubavitchers had announced a farbrengen with the Rebbe, and I dutifully showed up in Crown Heights. But my mind was elsewhere, as were most people’s: Richard Nixon was giving a speech that night, and the reports said he was resigning. 

Maybe it was me, but there was a strange feeling in the hall—it wasn’t as festive as usual. A Hasid was selling black shoes in the lobby. The Rebbe spoke, and there were the usual songs and toasts. But what did he say on this strange night? 

“He spoke a lot about the Messiah,” Hirsh Gonsburg told me. (That seemed logical, given the belief that the Messiah’s arrival will be preceded by great turmoil.) 

“He feels the Messiah is overdue?”

“He says it all depends on our work.”

“What does he want you to do?”

“What we’re doing—everything. Help out other people, mostly spiritual. He starts with Talmud, and Bible, like a lecture.” 

A few days later, armed with the assignment from the Times Magazine, I met with Yehuda Krinsky. First, we went over questions the Times wanted answered, like how many Lubavitchers there were in the world and Krinsky answered (there were 750,000). Then he tried to explain Hasidism to me. 

“The Chabbad philosophy is not just a philosophy,” he said. “It’s actually a deeper understanding of and involvement in Judaism. As such, it makes the person a better Jew, but it also makes him a different Jew. Because his comprehension of what Judaism is a lot deeper and more sensitive than the Jew on the street who hadn’t had the advantage of the Chabbad way of life, and therefore his practice is different.”

“How so?” I asked.

“There’s a story about this old Tzaddik, who when he used to put on his tefillin in the morning, he would be so emotionally involved in it that two people would have to hold him because he used to go into an ecstatic involvement in it. Why? Because his concept of tefillin was such that his involvement moved him to the state of ecstasy. Of course, not everyone is at that level. His putting on tefillin was different than my putting on tefillin, because he was one with what he was doing.”

“But how do you get to that stage?”

“What Chabbad philosophy tries to inculcate in a person is that the  person, whatever he does, does it with a deeper understanding of what the mitzvah is, so he knows this is God’s Torah, not an intellectual book of philosophy, and therefore, he’s a different kind of person.”

Krinsky then enunciated a belief that ran against my egalitarian grain.  “There are different levels in people. The Bible talks about the eyes of the people. The leaders of the people are often referred to in Judaism as ‘the heads.’ In the physiological structure of a person, you have his head, his heart, his hands, his feet. Now there are different levels of life. You can’t compare the level of life in the heart to the level of life in the sole of the foot. A person can live without a foot, but he can’t live without a heart or without a mind. So, obviously, the life coming forth from the soul has different levels of emanation.”

Krinsky was just getting started. “The same thing is true in the structure of a people as a whole. You have those who are the leaders, and those who you might call the feet of the people. The Bible tells about Moses–he mentioned the 600,000 foot people that ’I am amongst.’ There is this difference between levels of people. And the leader characterizes the head, which is delicate and very sensitive. It’s simply a different type of person. In a democracy, everybody is the same. You have the past president—is he or is he not above the law? Obviously, he’s not above the law. But in any case, when you’re talking about the Jewish people as a whole, they’ve been blessed through the generations with extraordinary leadership—not in the secular Jewish sense, I’m talking in the religious sense. Beginning with Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, and subsequently Moses, Joshua and the Prophets, then we came into the time of the Mishnaic sages, and the Talmudic sages. They’ve been a very small number, but they’ve been people who were capable of leading the people through very difficult times. And actually, they are on a different level. They don’t look upon themselves as different—it says that Moses was the most modest person, he held himself lower than the lowest of the people that he led, because he was in fact a true leader, in an authentic way.”

“Is the Rebbe on that level?” 

“The Rebbe is in the same way, because of the outstanding ability, the outstanding concern for the people,” Krinsky answered. “I would say the Rebbe is more concerned with his fellow Jew, regardless of the type of Jew, than a person on a lower level who’s a compassionate person involved in helping others. This mitzvah campaign—it’s not the Rebbe’s business. He doesn’t gain anything off it. What gain does he have? There’s no monetary gain, it doesn’t make his house any nicer, no more prestige or honor—he simply does it for the sake of the mitzvah itself. If there’s something lacking somewhere, by any Jew, in any part of the world, he feels that lack, he feels that something, he can’t rest or take it easy. What I’m trying to say is that the Rebbe’s capacity for leadership in general—there are certain prerequisites. First of all,, the man has to be well-versed in Torah study—you can’t be an ignoramus, and as far as that’s concerned, the Rebbe is an acknowledged genius in all fields of Jewish study. That’s intellectually speaking. But you have to be emotionally involved with your people, you have to feel that their concern is your concern. And it’s very evident.”

“It sounds like a lonely job, almost like the presidency,” I ventured. 

“I think that to a degree, there’s a comparison there. I think it’s a very lonely kind of a position. The Rebbe is not only closely tied in with the people constantly, he knows what’s going on. He’s very well informed as to everything, in the total world in general.”

“But what about the man? I impertinently asked. “Do you think he enjoys his food?”

“We’re talking on a very superficial level,” Krinsky replied. “You must remember that there is a difference between Judaism and other religions. In Chabbad Hasidus, more than any other philosophy, it’s a total job, it’s not something where you go to church on Sunday, and the rest of the week you can do what you want. It’s a total, encompassing kind of existence, from the instance you’re born to the end of your life, and we believe, beyond that.” 

He continued, as if I were a candidate.

“There’s a definite pattern by which a person must live. From the instant he gets up in the morning, he has to wash his hands, says his prayers, then he has to put on tefillin. ‘In all your ways you should know Him.’ That Biblical injunction is not to be taken superficially, it’s a very serious one in the sense that a Jew, no matter what he does, when he eats, sleeps, he does it with a certain ultimate goal, an ultimate purpose in mind, which is to bring Godliness into the world. He should do his job thoroughly, he should give to charity, raise children, lead his family in Yiddishkeit. There is no area in life that is exempt of Yiddishkeit. In the Tanya, the basic book of Chabbad philosophy, written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, he talks about when one eats, everything one does, has to be for a higher purpose. When one eats, he should not go down to the level of the food, but he should bring the food up to a higher level. For example, you have the animal, mineral, vegetable. The ultimate of the mineral is that it should give out vegetation, it should produce the vegetable. The ultimate of the vegetable is that it should be eaten by the animal. The ultimate of the animal is that it be elevated to a higher sphere, which is the human being. The ultimate of the human being is that he be elevated to a higher sphere, to Godliness. So that obviously, the food that a person eats is on a lower level than he is, and his obligation is to elevate to divinity, which is to be found in everything, the food hat he eats to a higher sphere.”

I was awed—he had, in effect, answered my question, although that wasn’t the type reply I was seeking. 

 “Who would be the closest person to the Rebbe?”

He mentioned a Rabbi Hartichov. “He’s about the same age, and is the Rebbe’s closest confidant,” Krinsky said. 

“He’s just a friend?

“Not just a friend, it’s his position. He’s involved in that work. He works until very late at night, and even when he’s home a few hours resting, his mind is here. I think it’s

 that way with most of us here. There’s a lot of satisfaction, of course. You’re really never free of it, when you’re home.” 

“Does it take away at all from your observance?”

“As far as practical observance is concerned, you still do that. But it does diminish from the time that I put in on studying. Speaking for myself, I wish I had more time to study.”

“The Rebbe’s health is good?” 

“Thank God. Sometimes he looks tired, which is understandable. He’s never left for a vacation or taken a rest that I know if. He just hasn’t. He’s never missed a day. I think what drives the whole thing is when any one of these individuals stationed in any part of the world looks at the Rebbe and sees how hard he drives himself, I think this gives him the stimulus to drive himself, and he doesn’t let up on himself, and he’s demanding of other people he works through, and I think his own schedule and his own approach to work stimulates others. He doesn’t ask any more of anyone else than he does himself.”

“If you’re working with him closely, is there a level on which you can socialize with him?”

“There’s really no socializing. I’ve been involved right now about 17 or 18 years, and as close as I’ve come to the Rebbe, I would say that he’s still an enigma, and I think even his closest confident, Rabbi Hartichov, would attest to the same thing. Despite the close activity at any given time, the Rebbe remains an enigma. He seems to be all locked up. There are territories there that are just virgin seemingly. No one has entered. “

“Do you think he has doubts?”

“Well, I would assume the decisions that he makes are thought through very carefully, cautiously, and before a decision is made, there might be doubt, I don’t know how to term it.” 

“I mean religious doubts, philosophical doubts.” 

“No, no, no. The Rebbe is a very believing man. Chabbad does profess intellectual inspection and introspection and involvement and research, but it doesn’t negate belief in any way. Therefore, belief is always there, it’s the rock bed of Judaism, and all the investigation that goes on intellectually speaking or philosophically speaking goes along hand-in-hand with the belief. There are no doubts by the religious Jew as to basic Jewish beliefs. The reason for the mystery is that the Rebbe is such a deep character, a complex person, that I simply think that he might be involved with certain studies, with certain matters of Torah, that he might not speak to the individual about at the time.  But in his thinking, his way of life, these are things he is involved in, in a higher sphere of mental and emotional involvement.” 

That was my last visit to Lubavitch.

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

Part XI

Part XII

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XII

By Ray Schultz

One hot Tuesday in August 1974, I found myself in a Hertz truck manned by young Rabbinic students on vacation. Their job was to drive around the city, jump out at different spots and urge American Jews to “identify.” My job, as I saw it, was to survive the ride.

By this time, I was on assignment from The New York Times Magazine. The Times had spurned an earlier proposal of mine, but another writer’s article on the Hasidim had fallen through, and the Times suddenly was interested in a mish-mash I had written, its main virtue being that it was “not too chicken soupy,” an editor wrote. But they wanted revisions. And their first demand was that I ride one of these new Mitzvah Mobiles—that was the news hook. I called Yehuda Krinsky, who seemed none too friendly at first. But faced with an impending article, he was helpful.

So there I was. Our first stop was Wall Street, where the truck attracted bemusement at best. The young men who manned it would sidle up to people on the street and ask, in confidential tones, “Are you Jewish?” If the answer was yes, they would start their pitch, but would withdraw the proffered booklets if the person said no.

Men who said they were Jewish were invited to enter the trucks. Most didn’t—as Shrage had said in a somewhat shocking remark, the Hasidim reminded acculturated American Jews of  “something they had a nose job to forget.” The few who did enter were instructed on the importance of charity boxes and tefillin. And they would be invited to put on tefillin. I, a non-believer, also was coerced into donning tefillin before the truck even took off, but I was now fairly skilled at wrapping it around my arm.

We left Wall Street, and after a bumpy drive to Brooklyn, parked on a corner near Sheepshead Bay. With klezmer music blaring from the truck, an old man started dancing on the sidewalk. They kept asking him if he was Jewish, but he wouldn’t stop dancing long enough to answer.

***

My other mandate from the Times was that I profile a “plain foot soldier” in Lubavitch. So Krinsky served one up. Hirsh Gonsburg, age 45, ran a printing house, The Empire Press, on Empire Blvd. He was born in Moscow, where he attended a small yeshiva in a basement. His father was an alumnus of the original Lubavitch yeshiva, and a photographer who occasionally took shots for Isvestia, the Soviet news agency. In 1938, the family moved to Palestine to avoid the coming war, and young Hirsh and his two brothers were able to pursue their yeshiva studies in peace. In 1948, at age 18, he came to America to study in Crown Heights, and met a young woman named Rasha Denburg, who came from a respected family. They were married. Rather than going in for teaching or further Rabbinic training, Gonsburg took a job with a small print shop in East New York, and started learning the printing business. After a brief period in Montreal, he returned to Crown Heights, and in 1967, with a loan from the Small Business Administration, he and Mordecai Chean, opened their own shop. They print publications for Lubavitch in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, and pamphlets for various businesses in the area. Both men enjoyed the work, but said it was tough to make a living. No matter what they earned, 10% of their incomes had to go to Lubavith. “It’s part of Jewish law,” said Gonsburg..

Like most men, Gonsburg carried the burden of mitzvahs for his family. He arose at 6:30 every morning and went to shul. There he donned his tefillin and tallis (prayer shawl) for morning prayer. He davened for 45 minutes, then returned home for breakfast. His shul was a small place near his house. Though most men would rather daven where the Rebbe was, they usually went closest to home. At 9:30, he arrived at work and began a long, hard day. Within an hour, his hands were usually full of printer’s ink, and his ears subjected to the constant clacking of the hot-type machines. Occasionally, he and Chean had to wash up and go over to Manhattan for business. In the course of a day, they were required to go through two more prayer sessions. One was mincha, or afternoon prayer. They usually davened together at the shop, with the co-workers. “The only requirement is that we do it by sundown,” he said. “If it’s late, we’ll just close the shop up: it takes about 15 minutes.” At night, he went to shul for evening prayer, which also takes 15 minutes, and after dinner he usually studied Torah for an hour or two by himself. “We have to keep studying,” he said. “It’s an ongoing thing. The Rebbe is studying, too.”

Gonsburg’s two sons attended yeshiva, where they spent half a day on religious subjects and half on state-required secular subjects. An average Hasidic schoolboy, in his bright-colored yarmulke and close-cropped hair, spends 8 or 9 hours a day (in school and at home) of grueling work in Torah, Talmud and Hasidus, and by the time he is 10 years old, will already be something of an expert, I was told. In addition, by the tender age of five, he would also mostly likely speak English, Yiddish, the sacred language Hebrew, and possibly one or more European languages, such as Russian or French, depending on where his parents came from.

At some point, I asked Gonsburg about his wife, and he replied, somewhat abashedly, that she had passed away in 1969. “We manage, thank God,” he said

To get a woman’s perspective, I visited Rabbi Menachim Blau’s home to interview his wife Esther, who ran the Hadar Hatorah women’s program.. Their house was neatly but not plushly decorated—there were photos of the previous and current Rebbes on the wall. Blau took out tefillin, kissed it and bade me to put it on. Esther brought out a quart of Tropicana orange juice and lemon meringue pie. While we talked, another woman sat in the front room and rocked their small baby.

Mrs. Blau told me the girl’s training program was the right one for women. “Girls can’t sit and study, they must work to support the men during first year or so of marriage while the men complete their studies,” she said. Her husband gravely nodded in agreement at some point.

Mrs. Blau continued that women are relieved of many of the responsibilities that fall on men—not that women are less valuable, only that “each sex has its role,” she said. “That of women is to make children—they are required only to observe those commandments for which they can find time. We want women to serve our Lord, but her part or role is by raising the family, to be fruitful, to have children.” Finally, without my even inferring it, she said, “Religious people don’t feel women are lower.”

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

Part XI

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XI

By Ray Schultz

In my ignorance, I now considered myself an expert on the varieties of Hasidism. In addition to the Satmar and Lubavitch, there were the Breslover Hasidim, the “Dead Hasids,” so called because their founding Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman, had died and never been replaced; they were viewed by other Hasidim with a mixture of contempt and pity, I thought. There were the Gere, the Belze and the Squarer, who inhabited New Square, in Rockland County, New York. 

I’d also somehow heard of the Sassover Hasiim, and I visited the remnant  that existed in their shul on the ground floor of a tenement in in the East Village of New York. To get to it, you had to walk through a dark alleyway. The Rebbe was a slightly passive young man, maybe 27, who did not look to me like a leader. Everyone else was elderly. They could barely pull together a minyan for afternoon prayer. 

Next on my tour were the Bobover, one of the largest groups in the city. They lived mostly in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood served by an El line that went to Coney Island. One Friday morning, I visited Rabbi Halberstam, a nephew of Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe, who at 67 was one of the most well-known Hasidic leaders in New York. We sat at a dining room table with a large, bright chandelier overhead and enjoyed soft drinks while talking.  

The Bobover dynasty was founded in Sanz, Poland in 1830 by Chaim Halberstam.  He learned with Rabbi Naftali Horowitz, who in turn had learned with Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhenskwho had studied with the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Bal Shem Tov himself. Rabbi Weisblum “was above our conception, we can’t even conceive the mind that he had,” our host, Rabbi Halberstam said. 

The current Rebbe’s father, Ben Zion Halberstam, had greatly expanded the movement after World War I, helping and praying for people with serious problems. Life was hard in Poland. And like other Hasidic groups, the Bobover were caught up in the horror overtaking Europe. The Rebbe, Ben Zion Helmerstam, was shot to death by the Nazis along with 1,200 other Jews in a slaughter in Lvov, Poland in 1941. And Shlomo Halberstam’s wife and two children also died in the Holocaust.

Despite these tragedies, Shlomo Halberstam took up the mantle of Rebbe and devoted himself to smuggling people out of concentration camps. In one operation, he hired coal trucks that were shipping coal into Hungary, and made double layers near the bottom, 20 to 24 inches wide, and there they would hide people. “The drivers got paid, they knew what was going on, and they smuggled out hundreds of people,” Rabbi Halberstam said. “He was running a whole intelligence system.” 

Some of the Bobover escaped to Russia, and found themselves in Siberia. Rabbi Halberstam’s own father died in prison there. The Hasidim were afraid to take Russian citizenship because it meant they couldn’t return to Poland, they thought. But in the end they were allowed to go home, only to find that anti-Semitism still prevailed in Poland and that they were not welcome back.

The Rebbe’s son left for Palestine on one of two ships headed there. The British Navy sank one, and fired on the other. The young man barely made it to land. 

Finally, the Rebbe arrived in the United States and found himself ministering to survivors, some of whom had not belonged to the Bobover congregation.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of other Hasidic movements some who were just wiped out, and there were no followers to reinstate it,” Rabbi Halberstam said. “There was nothing left in those countries, Poland, Hungary, Austria, nothing left over there.” 

These survivors were often burdened with psychiatric problems, as were their children. But few were ever treated because people wouldn’t seek help. And even if they did, there were few professionals qualified to deal with these issues. “What is psychiatric help going to do when a kid starts talking about a dybuk or gilgul?” asked Rabbi Yitchak Rubin, a Bobover I spoke with that same week. Rabbi Rubin added that some of these children were “skeletons,” or challenged in other ways, and encumbered with the fears of the parents. 

“There are little kids whose parents from the camps won’t let them ride on public transportation—they’re afraid they will be driven to the camps,” he said. 

It fell upon the Rebbe to pull the surviving followers together—if he could. 

“It was the Rebbe’s job to encourage them and prove to them they could start anew,” Halberstam said. That was the first challenge.  

Then there was the problem of making a living. 

“In early part of 1946 or ’47, the people who came over were lost people without any families, nobody to turn to, so the Rebbe felt that he must try and help these people,” Halberstam said. “So instead of them going out, not knowing English, not knowing where to start in this new country, he felt it was his duty to provide them with an occupation where they can make a decent living. “ The Rebbe decided on watch repair and jewelry. 

Why those two trades?

“He had meetings with professional people, with economists, from various trades, and had some of his businessmen bringing in people from the Labor Dept.,” Halberstam answered. “It was decided that these would be the most appropriate trades for a Jewish Hasidic youngster. It was an individual trade—there wouldn’t be any problems with unions, or with observing the Sabbath or the Jewish holidays.” 

The training program lasted for two years—after that, there was no need. 

How did the Rebbe bear up under all this pressure? Halberstam answered by saying something I had never heard about any of the other Rebbes: “He has a tremendous sense of humor, not only a sense of humor, but he rises himself above any problem he may encounter.”

This was reflected in the character of the Bobover, who while just as serious as other groups in their observance, they avoided controversy.

 “We do not discourage anyone, we do not disqualify anyone from becoming part of our movement,” Halberstam said.. “To the contrary we tolerate anyone’s views.” 

The Rebbe himself “is accessible to all,” Halberstam continued. “He’s in constant contact He has weekly gatherings every Friday night after the first Sabbath meal. The congregation would come where the rabbi comes. He says the kiddush, and they drink a cup of wine and sing the Sabbath songs. The Rabbi eats his Sabbath meal, and the rest of the people participate either by drinking a cup of beer, and eating fruit, and dance. And on this occasion the Rabbi gives a sermon. During this sermon, he will seek a certain topic to speak about. Sometimes it’s about education of children, sometimes it’ about ethics. Whatever the topic is, people are delighted and exceptionally enthusiastic about it.”  

The Bobover were also known for their joyous singing.

“An important point in the Bobover movement is singing because my grandfather, the Rebbe’s father, was a great singer, a composer,” Halberstam said. “He composed beautiful songs , we have records that we distributed. The Rebbe today also makes very beautiful compositions, so singing is important. It’s a good release, it tends to make you joyous and gives a lot of young people a certain feeling. It gives you patriotism, and they could be enthralled and prepare for the gatherings and for the holidays.”

Once again, I was astounded by the diversity within the Hasidic movement– how the Satmar, Lubavitcher and Bobover could have such distinct characters while rigorously adhering to the same commandments.  

The earlier installments:

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

 

Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

When the quarantine was up, Florida put them on a plane back to New York, and the minute they arrived, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, Hal Hall’s  battery of high-priced legal help couldn’t even figure where his family members were, let alone how to get them out of this predicament.

One night, Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer who might be able to help. Hal called and Erwin was happy to hear from him because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe. Then he had to deposit the money into a automated teller’s window in the wall in Erwin’s hallway.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm, and the bankruptcy court insanely approved a fee of $1.5 million, most of which was profit.

Determined to save the deal, Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor, who advised Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves, enjoy the sunshine and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island. So here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Introduction: Oh, Pioneers

By Ray Schultz

Copyright 2014

For Andrea

The consumer was prey who had to pray,” Copywriter Ed McLean

“`Who? Who’s got a steady job, a couple bucks nobody’s touched, who?’ David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross

Known for their beauty and even more for their vast ore deposits, the hills around Laramie, Wyoming were in 1865 the scene of regular knifings and garrotings. Then the Union Pacific Railroad was extended to Laramie, and westward from there: By 1875, trains were pulling in to refuel, and passengers were rushing into trackside restaurants to dine on dishes like minced liver on toast and calves tongue with tomato sauce. And there was one other sign of civilization: a lottery run by a man listed in the city directory as “Pattee, J.M., capitalist.”

Not that most townspeople were aware of the Lottery King. Having been run out of Omaha for swindling, Pattee had learned to operate by stealth. There would be no public drawings in Laramie, as there had been in Omaha. He would also pull back on advertising in newspapers. Why bother with that when there was a more hidden medium, one that would render him “hard to arrest for the deeds of the present, and harder to locate for the deeds of the past?”

That would be what is now called junk mail. This medium did not yet have a name, but it was the precursor of spam, and all other forms of instrusive advertising, and Pattee had mastered it. His circulars, 40,000 at a time, were printed by the Daily Sun, a newspaper located two doors down from his office, placed in hand-addressed envelopes, then loaded onto trains, some ending up “where the temperature is fifty degrees below zero, and little business has been transacted beyond sending to the general store for provisions,” as legend had it. Others went to places where “the golden scresent sinks beneath the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. and summer is eternal.”

The pieces were simple prize sheets. There was no way to tailor the copy by classifying people by their characteristics. Still, early junk mailers like Pattee had little trouble targeting their customers: They referred to them, simply, as “the fools.”

It was all they needed. For the real pioneers were grifters of whom little good can be said except that they were less likely than train robbers or other postal felons to be tattooed.

Chapter 1: Crooked Colonials