There is never an act of kindness that should go unrewarded. In the
end, everything works out for the good, even if you fail to understand
God's plan. The creation of the world is based on this priciple. After
each act of creation the biblical text asserts the refrain, "And it was
good", after each act of creation.
I had a plan and perhaps a single shot at lifting myself from orphanage
and poverty to a normal life. The plan included entering the US Army,
winning a scholarship for pharmacy school, completing school and working
for several years as a pharmacist while saving money, then buying a
house, and then getting married.
It was a long shot, and the details were sketchy, but it was a plan. I
had a few hurdles that had to be overcome. I had a defaulted student
loan which should had stopped any financial aid. I went to get legal
help about it from an organization in downtown Brooklyn. An
administrator did me the favor of losing the record...literally. The
loan didn't show up on the record again for 15 years when I applied for
my PhD. You would never get away with this today. We are now in a
state of the tyrany of computerized records and unforgiving and all
I also had no guaranteed landing stop when I finished with the Army. My
grandparents finally stepped up and filled that stop out. It gave me
real breathing room to work on my education and to grow. I also earned
a few bucks as a bike messenger, which is itself a great story. And I
greatly benefited from the loving hand of my grandmothers mothering
skills. She was the finest caregiver, and a natural born therapist.
Whatever was wrong in the world, in her kitchen all demons and tzarsus
were kept at bay. Her kitchen and home was nearly a literary device.
It's existence in the world seemingly made no sense. Drama we had
plenty, but everyone was always secure and at ease in those welcoming
What wasn't in the plan was meeting my wife, Ellen. When in the Army
I met a nice Farm girl by the name of Ellen Boehlke. She was quite
beautiful and a charmer, lovely smile and seemingly gentle. After I
left the Army she converted to Judaism. She came to Brooklyn and met
my Grandmother, and we arraigned to be married during Chanukah. We had
a small wedding that was attended by her sister and her mother and her
Aunt's at Temple Shalom on Avenue U in Mill Basin. We then convened to
my mothers house in Starret City where we lit Chanukah candles. We lit
so many candles that it made my mother very nervous. At this point, my
parachute was cut. All the foundations for security were undone. I had
more than 3 years left of school, no profession or job yet, and I was
taking on a wife who was completely disconnected from her Midwestern
barrings. It was a lot of responsibility and we were on the clock. But I
figured I could finish school and get working as a pharmacist before
running out of money while on my scholarship. One just has to have
faith, even if one is leaping head first off a cliff into a lake.
And faith we had, so I moved out of Grandmother's house and into the
basement of 928 East 28th Street, with the Yudkowitz family. When I
first met the old women who owned the house, she was a native Yiddish
speaking holocaust survivor, I gave her my phone number in Mill Basin
and told her my Grandmother loved to speak Yiddish. I was very young
and ignorant. I didn't understand that while Grandma Esther loved
Yiddish in theory and was brought up to love and read Yiddish, when
confronted with a true native Yiddish speaking holocaust survivor from
Eastern Europe with Orthodox roots, she wouldn't react well. That
wasn't the type of Yiddish speaker she had in mind and the initial
conversation between the two did not get off well. But they made peace
and I was approved for the apartment. Ellen finished her Army
enlistment and we moved into the basement. Here we met a young couple,
Joey Kaplan and his wife. Joey's father was the great author and
physicist, Arey Kaplan who's famous pinkish/purple Chumash is in most English speaking
In short time Mrs Yudkowitz moved out, and so did the Kaplan's.
Her son, Moshe (Marc) and his family moved in with his wife Rochel, and
daughters Sorah-Leah, and Chanah-Rivka, and Miriam Zehavelah, and Devorah Esther.
It was not much different than Teve the Milman. And a bit later,
upstairs, moved in Moshe's father, and Mrs Yudkowtiz's husband. The
elder Yudkowitz's didn't live together. They got along well enough, but
saw no reason to hang out together. He was an interesting character
worth saying a word about, as this is a time and place, Brooklyn in the
late 1980's, that no longer exists either spiritually or physically.
Moshe's father, Leon Yudkowitz, was a holocaust survivor from
Czechoslovakia. He spent the war fighting with the partisans in the
forests of central Europe and avoided liquidation, although they got his
entire family. This was not just for a year or two. Germany over ran
Czechoslovakia in 1938 and it wasn't freed until 1945. I can't remember
the details, but I believe that he lost his wife and his entire family
in the Final Solution and his wife was the sister of the then current Mrs
Yudkowitz. After the war, he found his siter-in-law and they married
and had a family. It was not exactly a marriage made in heaven, so
their separation in their older years needs to be understood within that
Mr Yudkowitz was a gregarious man who never learned a word of English.
Mrs Yudkowitz wanted nothing for her boy but for him to become a Rabbi.
Moshe, of course, chose instead to become a bookkeeper and married
Rachel and had a family. Whenever I saw the old man, we seemed to have had
kindred spirits, and he would bellow, "Reeuuuvain" from is smallish
potbellied frame. And I would grin ear to ear and shout back, "Shalom
One summer day, and he was plenty old, and I had a new car at the time, on a Sunday
morning coming back from shule he intercepted me. Reuvain, I need a
ride. I had nothing to do that day and said sure. He got in and he
lead me unexpectedly to Teaneck New Jersey and upstate New York so he
could visit all his grandchildren and children. I met all of Moshe's
relatives, and spent a full day on the road in this happenstanced Sunday
drivng all about the region, visiting Leon's children. I had Chinese food with his family in a
Kosher place in Teaneck. We ended up in Monticello, I believe, at the
Cutler's bungalow colony. We ended up with the Sunday night traffic
coming back to the City and didn't arrive home until nightfall. And it
was a pleasure and I was happy to do it.
Ellen took her first job in New York City working on a Wang word
processor for the "Council on Tobacco Research" which was one of the
front organizations for the Tobacco industry, trying to fight off
government regulation and bad press (a battle they would eventually
lose). I was working 24/7 on Pharmacy school, staying up most nights
overnight studying and working on my notes. All my notes and subsequent
research was meticulously entered into my world processor on my Tandy
COCOII computer and printed on my okdata dot matrix printer. Later I
moved on to a used x286 PC. I was using the Elite Word Processor that directly accessed the
printers binary instructions. It was a different experience than what
we do now.
I had a routine for studying. I had three stages of notes. I had taped the lectures on a cassette recorder while
sleeping in class. I then borrowed notes from my friend, Liz Moore. I then
wrote my notes by listening through the tape and pouring over the
related textbooks, combining Liz's notes to mine. Then I typed them all
out on the computer and printed them. The next day I reviewed them in
detail after dinner and evening prayers. And on the third day I
reviewed them again, made flash cards of all the points, and did a final edit before placing them into
folders designed for storing dot martix paper. It was a rigorous method
to studying, but it was thorough. Nothing was taught in the class that
I didn't know. Often that was a problem since tests seemed to go off
the rail with material not covered. Unfortunately, I was more exacting
than the professors.
Closing in on the end of my 4th year of Pharmacy School, with one more
year to go, Ellen corners me and kindly says to me, that she is getting
older, she was 3 years older than me, and she wants a baby... now,
before she gets too old. She had obviously given this a great deal of
thought and caught me by suprise. She was ramped up for a disagree.
She was 25, soon to turn 26 after all. Oye. We had no money and I had
not yet finished school. But I gave her no argument. We were a jewish
family and we were supposed to have children. In for a pound, in for a penny.
I did a quick calculation and figured, well in 9 months I will be only a
semester left in school, so we can squeeze this out if I find work right
away after college. After all, Pharmacists were in demand, and I
anticipated no troubles finding work after graduating (boy was I wrong).
So I agreed and soon enough Ellen was pregnant and still going to work
nearly every day into her 8th month. We were both dedicated and hard
workers, and diligent... if any of that mattered.
I was completely socked into my schooling at this point and I can barely
remember her pregnancy. My friend Yitzchok, from school, would come to
the house at 1AM and study with me sometime, and I'd have to kick him
out. I learned Torah in the morning with a friend, Zev Budnitz, who I met at
Rabbi Friendmans Shteepel, "Marpel Lenefesh". He loaned me his 1973
Baby Blue Plymouth Valiant to drive in. I actually loved that car but
had almost no money. That winter rolled in and it was cold.
A couple of days before Talyah was born, we were socked in with a very
decent snow storm and then it got very cold. That morning, on January
11th, Ellen went into contractions, and I got everything ready to go to
the hospital. She had a male OBGYN doctor who was somewhat alouf and
had a funny view on women. He was near the end of his career, and I
think all those years delivering children might skewer ones attitudes.
He viewed women somewhat like one might view race horses. He said it
would be hours before she would likely deliver, so I grabbed my Tfillen
bag at 6AM and in 10°F degree weather, drove to the shule 2 blocks away.
I wouldn't normally do this, but perhaps with the car all set up and
pulled out of the driveway, I probably had no quick place to put it.
I might had just brought it to shule due to the freezing cold, but it was
likely because I had no parking and the roads were being ploughed.
Our shule was a house with tile floors and portable tables and metal
folding chairs and an Aaron Kodesh and Bimah. I was pretty simple and I
liked it that way. The Mikitzah was in the back of the building and the
men's section was about 3/4th of the length of the house with the girls
in the back quarter. It was a long, rectangular, two story structure
with a back staircase and door between the men's and womens section with a stairs that
went upstairs and to the basement. A fairly typical Brooklyn structure
of the period with windows running down both side of the house and the
front and rear.
I walk into the shule and sat down to learn with
Zev. Zev looks at me and said, is everything ok? I said, well, "Ellen
is having contractions but it will be hours before the delivery". Zev
looked at me with deep concern and say, "Really, maybe you should take
her to the hospital". I said. "I don't know, they say this can take
hours". Zev said, "no, you don't know that. I would go now". We used to
spend a lot of Shabbosim with Zev and his wife Phylis. She was from Denver,
and he had a background in computer programming. He was
more experienced with two children already, so I took his word for it. I trusted Zev.
I grabbed my messenger bag and went back out in the 10°F weather and got back in the car, only to
find it was now stuck on a snow bank.
Until that moment I was fine. When the car was obviously stuck on a
snow bank, with all of Ellen's stuff in the back of the car, and her
having contractions in the house, and Zev and others in the synagogue
pressing me to go to the hospital immediately, I started to panic.
The frame of the Valiant was stuck on the snow bank with the wheels in
the air. And it was freezing out. I walked back into the shule to use
the phone and Zev says, "What's wrong". I said the car is stuck on a
snow bank in front of the shule. Four men came out of the shule. They
lifted the car physically off the snow bank and onto the paved road.
Some of them were not young men. But they pulled it off. With wheels
now on paved road I went to pick up Ellen and we ran to Borough Park to
We get to the hospital and I pull up to the main entrance, and I blow
past the main desk and go up to maternity and the labor and delivery
station. It was a long an miserable wait. It might have been almost 18
hours for the delivery. I think we did some research about it before
going and decided to do without anesthesia which was thought to be safer
and natural endorphins would kick in. It didn't quite work like that.
It was a long and difficult delivery for her, and I felt for Ellen. I
tried to be there and be as supportive as possible. I was not in the
delivery room. I don't really see the point of having another person
in there when everyone is running around. But when Taly came out
of delvery I was so in love with her. It was instantaneous.
Through all the stories and the fears, and the grief, when Talyah came
out healthy and alert, I fell in love with her immediately. She was the
greatest little girl, if a bit yellow, and Ellen was exhausted and slept
soon after. The doctor who did the delivery came out and said that
"Your wife is a strong women", again with the race horse anaologies.
I nodded my head, and with Ellen's permision, I went home to announce
the news to my Rav and family.
There was more than a couple of battles along the way with the Hospital.
They know you are vulnerable at this point and they try to squeeze you,
and asked me to sign a dozen forms that I refused to sign. In the end,
all I signed was the consent forms. And then they wanted to keep Taly
for extra days. Her Bilrubin was a smiggin high but declining normally.
I had to insist they check her out and they refused until the attending
intervened and agreed that indeed, there was nothing wrong with the
baby. The very long delivery was both a physical and emotional drain on
Ellen, and her family wasn't close for support. She could have really
used her mother at the time. But the congregation did coalesce on us,
with a food train, and constant visitors.
It wasn't long before I was changing diapers and putting my camera to
use. I have thousands of physical pictures of Talyah Leah. Some
time soon I will need to digitalize them. It is time. In short time
she responded to my voice, and she loved balloons. We had breakfast
every morning and I couldn't see how, as she grew, how anything could
get between us, because we were that close.
It was a blink of the eye and she was in playgroup. The Rav's wife,
Goldie, ran a play group out of her basement. Goldie was such a fine
women, and still is. But we had a fairly strict no candy rule in the
house. And the first day at the playgroup Taly come home with two arms
full of "pekelach"... candy and chips. I was amazed. I took all the
candy and said "No no no... Where did all this coming from?". Morah
Goldie! I call her on the phone and I thought I was going to lay down
the rules for candy. I had no idea what I up against. The religious
Jewish community is simply flooded with candy! Half of every Kosher
grocer is pure junk food. It feels like there has never been a junk
food created that didn't have a Heksher. I took my lumps on that one.
Talyah Leah is a beloved child who was brought into this world with a
great deal of uncertainty. She has great love in her heart, and before
she was taken from me by her mother, I could see her wheels turn and
understand just how she would think problems through. After she left
with her mother, all of that seemed to have been broken. The trust was
all gone, and the closeness evaporated. Many regrets I have over this,
but not many solutions.