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15.11.15

If I would have to reduce my parents idea of a proper education into one phrase I would say it would be: "Torah and vocation and survival skills."

My Dad was born to Jewish immigrants from Poland right after World War I.  There is a story behind this. In Poltusk, Poland, there was a Jewish family, the Rosenblums. The father was Altar Rosenblum. One of his boys left the old country and immigrated to  to NY and started a bakery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was  married to a Jewish girl from another Polish village. His younger brother, Yaakov, came to join him. When Yaakov arrived it was suggested that he marry the sister of the wife of the first brother. So they sent for Rivka. When she came, Yaakov and she got married. Their second son was Philip. He was sent to public school along with his older brother Alex and younger sister Ruth. He had a choice to go into doing the violin professionally, or to go the Michigan State University for Mechanical Engineering. He chose the latter. He also applied to Cal Tech and was accepted. (California Institute of Technology). That was the top university in the USA for technology at the time. MIT was second. But Philip's parents were poor immigrants so he decided to go to Michigan instead since it was $100 less expensive. By the time he graduated from Michigan his parents could also pay for Cal Tech so he went there for his master's degree.

Then World War II started. So he volunteered for the USA Air Force. He was sent to France to set up an Air Force base for the Allied airplanes. Because of his experience in engineering, he was able to sent up a system where people that knew nothing about planes would be trained in fixing just one small part of  a plane. So when damaged and planes would arrive he had a system in which he had a whole team that each member knew just one portion of the plane and they could get almost any plane up and back into action with a few hours. His main obligations were for a group of B-29 Bombers. He was the captain of the group. (In Air Force terminology that means  flight commander- the leader of a pack of B-29 bombers going into battle.)
After the war, he met my mother, Leila Freeman. She was also from a family of immigrants from Poland. (Dorthy Solomon and Isaac Freeman were her parents.) They lived in NJ. Philip met her on a beach. He was with a group of  friends, and someone suggested that they go over  say hello to the group of girls that was at the beach at the same time.

He worked at the time for the USA Army at Fort Monmouth NJ. That is where he invented a kind of camera that could focus Infra Red rays into a coherent image. And that is when he had a article written about him in Life Magazine.

They had three boys. I am the middle. My first memories are from public school in Newport Beach California where they had moved. Philip had been recruited by  again to build a camera for the highly secret U-2 project. So he flew off to Area 51 every week. Later he was asked to join the SDI project at the height of the Cold War  (Star Wars). So we moved to Beverly Hills which was in commuting distance from TRW where his laboratory was located.

The main thing that I was hoping to get to was the main thing in this narrative was family vacations, skiing, sailing, and going to the beach every weekend. This was their way of parenting. We just would spend time together as a family. And they never argued. There was an amazing love and aura of peace and wholeness about them.  Their main principle was to be  a "mensch"--a decent human being.
We  believed in Torah--the Oral and Written Law of Moses. [That means to say that we went to a very good Reform Temple in Hollywood, but we placed much more emphasis on Torah that the official Reform doctrine.] But I should mention that we were not religious fanatics. And my parents also thought that it is not good to be a crazed, religious fanatic.  Learning Torah and keeping Torah is important. But their idea of what it means to learn and keep Torah was  based on how their were taught by their parents who were simple working Jews from Eastern European Shtettles. And that was very far away from religious fanaticism.

Their approach was balance. And that is an approach that I try to keep to.

I was philosophically inclined and as a teenager I would talk to my mother about my ideas when I got home from school. I also showed interest in Physics and my parents encouraged me in this direction. All my years in High school I had a college textbook of Collage Physics that I read from time to time. But I have no talent in that direction.  I tried to explain this to my Mom  I said that I thought I would try to go into the violin thing. She said, "If so then you have to spend at least 6 hours a day practicing." But even a lot of practice had a "law of limited returns" for me. So I was not good at anything I tried my hand at.  At some point I got interested in learning Torah more than what had been in our home and wanted to go to yeshiva. My parents were against this. And time showed that they were right. There are two kinds of Torah learning. One is what is called לשמה for its own sake. That means one does not make money from it or get other kinds social benefits. The other kind is for social benefit and money. They thought that yeshivas were mainly about the later--that is to use Torah for some alternative benefit. And this they thought was wrong.
To some degree they are right. But as for the two yeshivas were I learned I think that both places were very much into learning Torah for its own sake.

They also had a concern about making an honest living and not depending on charity. Plus the whole idea of being in yeshiva and learning only Torah implied a kind of lack of balance or fanaticism that they disapproved of.  Later on I began to appreciate their point of view.  But this was all my own fault. Neither yeshiva in NY was saying anything about being fanatic. My first Rosh yeshiva (Rav Friefeld) told me to spend half a day going to university. (And Reb Shmuel Berenbaum also had nothing against university if it for making a living. That is what he told me openly word for word.) And the second place {The Mir in  NY} also was simply concentrating on learning Torah but no one said it could be used as means to make  a living.

My Dad had a major principle, i.e.,  to be self sufficient.


I think if I had known about the way of learning of the Talmud in Tractate Shabat page 63A of saying the words and going on-- I probably could have gone into Physics. The trouble I think was I did not have method of learning by which I could understand. I discovered that that even if I don't get it at first it gets absorbed by osmosis.

I think I had a spiritual connection with my parents. This is something you see in the Ari and I definitely felt it.

This is all the bare outline. There is more to tell about our trips to go skiing and sailing but perhaps I will leave that to another time since it seems like almost a new topic.

More details:
1) My Dad left TRW before the scandal about the Russian spy emerged. {That was the event in which the KGB found found a janitor inside of TRW who was able to steal the plans for the SDI project.} My Dad's reason for leaving was that there were many very talented engineers being trained by USA universities in more modern technologies and that they were going to be hired and that he was going to be fired. So he left before that could happen. The scandal about the Russia spy emerged afterwards and then TRW went under.
2) Then my Dad tried his hand at different projects. He made improvements in our home in Beverly Hills and sold it at a profit. And began to do the same with other real estate properties. And he invested heavily in the Stock Market and never took the advice of any stock broker. He said, "The fastest way to lose money on the stock market is to take the advice of stock brokers." He investigated every company he invested in. His business abilities were inherited by my brothers.

3) My mother got sick and died right after I went to yeshiva. This was a terrible blow to my father and us brothers. It is very hard to describe my mother. Mainly she took her responsibilities towards her husband and her children with the highest degree of serious that any human being can summon. And this included her loyalty and love towards her own parents and sisters.
That means she spent all of her time raising her children properly, cleaning house, getting us to school and then after school violin and piano lessons and working herself on part time jobs  like typing as secretary. It was on the way to a violin lesson when she told me how she wanted to be buried--in  plain pine box. She never had the chance to get old but she did ask me and my brothers never to put her in an old age home. This she said every  time when that I or my brothers asked her what we could do for her in gratitude of all she was doing for us.
She and my Dad had a horror about being dependent on other people's favors. Self sufficiency was their prime directive.
The idea of self sufficiency came up in many situations. For just one example I was not allowed to use teh ski lift until I could walk up the mountain on my own two feet and ski down. And that is exactly what I did. Only then was I allowed to go up on the ski lift. Another example was the slide rule. You can do calculation instantly with the slide rule. But my Dad did not let me use it until I could do the same kind of calculations by hand. That is to say my brothers and I were taught to be self sufficient. That was the reason also that we were sent to join the boy scouts in order to learn outdoor skills. But again I should mention my parents had a very abundant quantity and quality of common sense. They would never send us to the boy scouts today and would be horrified even if we would want to go on our own.

If I would have to reduce their idea of a proper education into one phrase I would say it would be: "Torah and vocation and survival skills."