My dad, Jacob (“Jack”) Newton Feldman, was the child of East European immigrants. His father, Grandpa Paul, was a loveable scallywag from Romania who arrived at Ellis Island in 1898. I’ve written about him in an earlier blog. Dad’s mother, Ida Litzky Feldman, landed in New York City around the same time from Odessa, Ukraine. The daughter of a scribe who meticulously copied Torah scrolls and was considered a holy man because of his daily proximity to the Word of God, Grandma Ida was a by-the-book Orthodox Jewish woman who raised her three sons to be the same. Dad was the oldest. She failed with all three.
Born in 1905, my father told me once how he and his next-oldest brother, Murray, would play baseball after school when they were living in Haddonfield, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The problem was, 12 and nine years old respectively, they should have been home learning Biblical Hebrew and preparing for their bar mitzvahs at 13. The rabbi, who came out from Philly several times a week to teach the boys, was pretty handy with his ruler. And given how underprepared they were, their knuckles became painfully red. One day the Feldman boys planned to give the rabbi, a small man, a taste of his own medicine. So, while one of them held the holy man, the other administered the punishment. The poor man cried out, “Mrs. Feldman, your boys are hitting me!” Grandma, grabbing Grandpa Paul’s leather belt, gave them both what-for. But when Grandpa came home, he was livid. And saying “Ida, you hit my boys,” he got the leather belt and punished her for her transgression. All that notwithstanding, both Dad and Uncle Murray were duly bar mitzvah. Dad vowed however that if he ever had kids, he would never require them to undergo religious training, and he was as good as his word.
On the cusp of her 90th birthday, my older sister, Natalie, is still fully secular. Based on different experiences, I became a Christian in graduate school and today am a dedicated Episcopalian. In his later working years as a commodities broker, Dad had a lovely administrative assistant, Ilene McH., a middle-aged single woman who was an observant Roman Catholic, a kind of secular nun. Once on vacation from college I asked Dad how she was. “Oh, she’s fine,” he said, with a sad look. “She’s always fine. She has Jesus.” Dad died from multiple myeloma a week after his 81st birthday in a Catholic hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I had visited him from Chicago for his birthday and had initiated him into my spiritual practice, Subud. “What could it hurt?” he said to my offer. When my nephew Robert visited him a few days before he died, Dad said, “A beautiful lady in white visits me.” Robert, still single, said, “Oh, Charlene, the day nurse.” “No, Robert!” Dad replied. She’s the lady who’ll take me to the other side.” Now Dad, who didn’t drink, smoke, or gamble, did have an eye for the ladies. The Divine Mercy had sent him someone he would follow anywhere, even into the jaws of death. I’m guessing that’s just what he did.
Jack Feldman in his late 60s