If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
but make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, or talk to wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son.
But first, some memories.
My grandfather majored in Electrical Engineering at Brooklyn Tech High School, from which he graduated around 1940. He told me that the skills he acquired at Brooklyn Tech allowed him to join not only the manufacturing staff at his subsequent job, it actually allowed him to join the lab, “in which testing was done on that electrical equipment” that was being manufactured: sinine rectifiers (which apparently change alternating current into direct current). When, in 1941, my grandfather was drafted to serve in the American army in World War II, he then joined the signal corps, which involved “telecommunications between various parts of the army.”
I remember that one time when we were kids, Grandpa Larry and Grandma Norma…
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This is an interview I did with my grandfather, Larry Eisen, in his last year before he passed away (on this Hebrew Date in 2008 – 5 years ago). The bold is him talking, the unbold is me unless otherwise indicated.
Okay, well, I was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, NY.
Where in Brooklyn?
Oh, uh, I think it was called — I don’t remember the name of the hospital. I was hardly aware of it. But anyway, that’s where I was born. And, uh, the region that I was born, if you’re familiar with Brooklyn at all, was slightly north of the main entrance to Prospect Park where the Soldiers and Sailors monument is, on Vanderbilt Avenue.
The neighborhood that I grew up in was mainly Italian and Irish Catholics, and as a result I was subjected to a large amount of anti-Semitism, as you can imagine.
In what way?
Um, name-calling mostly. I–I wasn’t really physically beaten, but a lot of name-calls. A lot of name-calling did exist at that time. And that’s the way it was. I continued that, I went to grade school in the neighborhood, two blocks away, and I — in school it wasn’t so bad, I don’t think I was subject to any particular anti-Semitism in school itself.
The school that I went to only went up through the fifth grade, and then you were transferred automatically to the school across the street, which went from sixth grade to eighth grade. That’s the way it was in those days. You went to grade school from Kindergarten to eighth grade. I do recall, however, that I wasn’t too happy going to Kindergarten, because I remember running home every so often.
From Kindergarten, right. I guess I found that too overwhelming. Anyways, and my mother had to bring me back there. But eventually I guess I got used to it since I stayed there throughout the whole day.
Oh yes, and very interesting then. At the — the day was broken up into two parts: from 9 AM, which was the beginning of the school day till twelve. And then everyone was allowed to go home to eat. Lunch. And then come back at one o’clock. That was considerably different, I think, than modern times. I think that everyone — apparently, they really closed up the school for one hour of lunch.
Uh, then, I, uh, went to the school, which went from, uh, sixth grade to eighth grade, and I did pretty well, I guess, And, uh, I eventually graduated.
Do you remember anything, like, any particular stories from that time?
Well, I remember I had a crush on one of the girls there.
Do you remember her name?
Yes I do but I’m not going to reveal it.
Because it’s — it’s too personal.
Anyway, but I eventually, I broke my contact with her, since she skipped a grade that I didn’t.
Ah. Too smart?
So anyway, in my graduation picture, I noticed I was the second one from the highest — tallest student there. And my graduation picture consists of me being behind most of the class since I was one of the tallest ones and everyone else was in front of us because they were shorter.
Uh, that’s the way I continued, I guess. Oh yes, in that time, by the way, I was referred to by my name as Lawrence Eisen. And as far as I knew, Lawrence was my name. However, when I graduated, I found out for the first time that my first name was not Lawrence, but it was Charles! Uh, so then when I went into high school, I, uh, solved the problem by signing my name “C. Lawrence Eisen”.
Uh, I went to Brooklyn Tech…
For High School?
For high school. That was considered an elite school in those days, and I eventually graduated there as C. Lawrence Eisen.
I majored at that time in Electrical Studies — Electrical Engineering. There were called “Terminal Courses” and “College Courses”. College Preparation courses. Uh, I wasn’t sure that I was going to college at that time or not, anyway, so I majored in Electrical Engineering, which I found very useful when I graduated because shortly after my graduation I was able to get a job doing what I had learned electrically and I did pretty well. That was in New York City at the time, that’s where I got my job, my first job, after graduation.
Where was this job?
All I remember is that it was on Varick Street in New York.
Uh, eventually, however, shortly after I joined the staff there, the staff moved out to New Jersey to, uh, East Newark, NJ. Alright, now I remember. And, uh, that wasn’t so bad. It took me a while, of course, to get there, but it was pretty straightforward as means of traveling. And what I did in those days, there were different ways I used to get there. One way was to take — to go out to Cortland street by subway, take the ferry from Cortland Street, uh, towards Hoboken, Hoboken there I hopped a Lackawanna Railroad train, and got off at, uh, at uh, East Newark, NJ. So that was one way of getting there, via the ferry. Another way was for me to, uh, take what is called the “Tubes”. The Tubes was a railway that was a railroad that went underneath the Hudson River, and I got to the Jersey side via that method. And there I took a bus, a bus that eventually let us off near where I worked. And so that’s the way I used to go for many years, roughly from 19– roughly about 1940, 1941, I don’t remember anymore, and that’s — that’s where I worked.
Eventually, I, uh, became — by the skill that I had acquired at Brooklyn Tech concerning Engineering and electrical work in particular allowed me to join not only the manufacturing staff, which I had been on, but actually to join the lab, in which testing was done on electrical equipment that we were manufacturing. The electrical equipment we were manufacturing was essentially, uh, sinine rectifiers. A rectifier is a device that changes AC into DC — alternating current into direct current. And, uh, we made a large number of those devices, and we tested them very carefully also in our laboratory, which I enjoyed working in very much.
How old were you at this point?
Uh, let’s see. If it was 1941, then I was twenty…. (Grandma: Nineteen.) Sorry, nineteen. Right. I’m very poor at mental arithmetic.
Yeah. Anyway, so, uh, so that’s where I worked until — of course in that period of time war broke out in Europe, and also the United States in 1941 became involved with the war in Japan and Japan — and Germany. Uh, I was kind of restless at that time also, and I did like the idea of being drafted, so what I did was I joined what is called Reserve Corps. And it allowed me to go to school for about nine months and then to go on to active duty. Which is what I did. Uh, so around 1942 — or 1941, I joined the core, the Reserve Corps, and then 1942, I, uh, went on active duty and I was sent to Camp Krauter (?9:51) in Missouri. I joined the signal corps.
Which is what?
The signal corps was also involved in telecommunicating — telecommunications, between various parts of the army. Signals being electrical signals by which you communicated with various parts of the army. So there at Camp Krauter I did my, uh, basic training and, uh, eventually, several of us were selected to go to, uh — wait, let me think of the years — 1944 — what was the year of the invasion? Norma? Norma? (Grandma: Yes?) What’s the year of the invasion? (Steve: 1944.)
1944. Okay. It was in 19- then — from 1943 —
The invasion of Europe. (Steve: The invasion) The invasion.
Yeah. And, towards the end of 1941, I was sent to another camp in New Jersey — I think it was Camp, uh, Monmouth. Fort Monmouth, that’s right. And there I joined another signal core company that was ready to be sent overseas, and in January 1944, I was sent to Europe by one of the Liberty Ships that left from Brooklyn — as a matter of fact, from Brooklyn — to Wales in, uh, the British Isles.
Uh, the trip was very interesting. I found myself getting seasick once, but once I passed that one, I was fine for the rest of the trip.
How long did it take?
About five days.
Only five days to get across?
Yeah, five days. We crossed in five days, I believe it was. Yes. Um…
This was in January 1944.
So, in January 1944 — roughly the same month, January 1944, we landed in Wales. And, uh, our outfit was then taken off and was sent to Bristol. Now let me point out what might job was in the signal core, I forgot to mention that. The signal core is made up of a lot of electronic equipment. This electronic equipment had to be, of course — had to have electricity, and you had to have generators, you have to have electrical generators, and you have to be able to distribute the electricity to the various equipment — the various parts and various equipment that the, uh, signal core headquarters had available. We were assigned mostly to the headquarters of the first army. First Army Headquarters. Right. Um, we, uh — one of my jobs in particular was to set up the generators and to run the lines to the various equipments that was being used at the headquarters.
Uh, at that time, by the way, I had already become a corporal. I became a private first-class back in the United States, and I now became a corporal. So I was a corporal during this strip — during this period. Uh, we stayed mostly in, uh, no — we stayed mostly in Bristol after we landed in Wales, we stayed in Bristol, and then we eventually moved up to a place, I forget the name of it, but it — oh, it was called Kitterminster (?13:12). I think it’s up by Birmingham but I’m not sure. But anyway, in Kitterminster, where we stayed for our trip, after we landed, until the invasion. We were up in Kitterminster there quite a while, and, uh, that’s when I learned to eat fish and chips, and also to jump on and off buses while they were in motion. Everybody — that’s the mode of transportation. Um…
What country is this in?
Kitterminster, in England.
This is England.
Did they drive on the wrong side of the road at that point too?
Oh yeah, they would also drive on the wrong side of the road. (Chaim: They still do.) Uh, so we stayed up there for several months, and then came June of course, and everybody knows what happened in June: the invasion took place.
Shortly after, I —
What did you do there, before the invasion?
We were simply training. Continuous training.
Um, after the invasion took place, I guess a week or so later, we were moved down to the coast, to, uh, what’s the coast — uh — in England, the coast — I can’t remember a name. It starts with a P I believe.
I don’t know.
If I had a map I could probably figure it out. But anyway, we moved towards the coast of England, that is, the coast that is along the English channel. And, uh, several weeks after the invasion itself, we ourselves were boarded onto a ship, which took us —
Oh, before that, the Normandy beach had been secured, and in particular the Shiborg (?14:48) Peninsula was also secured, and what we did, we landed on — we landed at a port on the Shiborg Peninsula. Uh, we stayed there for a while, while a big battle arose called the Sanalo (?15:02), it as called, Several weeks of battle in Sanalo. I wasn’t in the battle, I mean, but we were in the headquarters behind the troops — behind the front line troops. And, uh, the — a tremendous amount of time was spent overcoming the resistance that the Germans put up, uh, in Sanalo. But eventually they did — the Germans did succumb, and we were able to push on down, into France proper, and, uh, eventually we even ended up in the outskirts of, uh, Paris.
I remember being in Paris, for a while, first time I saw the Champs Elysee. Uh, then, uh, from there, we then pushed onward. Then things were going our way pretty much, and we next went into Belgium, and Holland, and, um, and then it was around that time, it was around December 1944 that the Germans made a big backward push, called Battle of the Bulge. And, I remember, that whereas we kept seeing our tanks moving forward, forward, forward, this time we watched our tanks moving back, back, back. So, things didn’t look too good at that time, and, in fact, it was a very bad time for us, that Battle of the Bulge. But eventually, things turned around, and we were to continue back and to continue our forward march into Germany proper. Uh, we finally did move into Germany, and for the first time I saw a concentration camp.
I don’t remember the name. We weren’t able to stop there. I was in a truck, the back of the truck, so all I could do was look out the back of the truck and see the concentration camp. but then we continued on into Germany itself, and I believe we eventually ended up in Weimar. Uh, and we stayed there for a while. At that time, the Germans had already given up, and, uh the Russians had already been moving into Berlin, so we were staying there for a while. After, uh, being there for a while, our company, which was still called Company 246 Signal Company — that was the name of our company, 246 Signal Company, we regrouped and we were then sent down to Marseilles, in preparation for going into the Pacific. So, uh, we went down to Marseilles, and that was a pleasant time for a while, but then they made us board ships in August 1945, uh, and we then set sail at the beginning of August and we moved out to sea. And, I remember that while it was quite warm on those days, on the ship, so we used to lie down on deck itself to fall asleep. And, looking up at the sky, I could see falling stars. These were the, uh, Perseids. They are very frequent falling stars. I was really amazed to see what was going on — what was going on up in the sky.
After that, we got word of the fact that the Japanese had surrendered, and, uh, at that time, we were already heading toward the Panama canal, to go to the Pacific, and we were told the following day that the ship was going to head for New York. And, in fact, we were told on the loudspeaker that we should watch the wake of the ship as it turned right, instead of going directly to the Panama Canal, it swung around to the right to head for New York. And you should have seen the bedlam on that ship. Everybody just went crazy. And, so —
Happy crazy. Right. And so we eventually ended up in New Jersey — I forget the name of the camp that we ended up in — anyway, that was roughly around September, 1945. Uh, then — at that time, in order to get mustered out, as they say, mustered out of the army, you needed a certain number of points. I was lacking a small number of points, so I had to stay in the army, but essentially I spent my time being, uh, being on leave all that time. And, of course, during that period, I went home, I saw my parents and family, and it was a pretty pleasant time.
And then, uh, eventually I developed enough points, by being in the army long enough I developed enough points to be discharged. The question is, though, what do I do now? I had in mind all along, now, that since there was such a thing as the GI Bill of Rights, I wanted to take advantage of it to a great extent, and so I applied to go to a school. The first school I applied to was, uh, Brooklyn Polytech. And they didn’t have room in the day school so I joined Polytech at night. And I studied at night school for a while. I wasn’t happy going to night school, I wanted to go full time day school.
Tell me a little bit more about the GI Bill of Rights.
Well, the GI Bill of Rights paid for the tuition, as well as books, which was a very significant outlay on the part of the government, so that’s the way that one worked. However, since there was a large number of GIs trying to get into school at that time, the New York State opened up several schools that had not been open before. One of them was at Samson, New York, which was a naval base. And they built — well, they had buildings there, and they opened up a school called, uh, I guess Samson College. And I said, well this is one way for me to take on full time studency — to become a full time student. So I went up there and I did pretty well. I was up there for a year or so.
What did you study?
Oh yeah, I decided on a major of — I decided to major in physics. In fact, I found physics very enjoyable. In fact, I found that at one point I could solve problems that no one else in the class setting would solve, so I really had a bit for studying physics.
Having now decided that I wanted to be a physics major I then applied to two other schools. I applied to NYU and also to Columbia. Uh, NYU accepted me almost immediately, and so I went there. I eventually received an acceptance from Columbia, but because I had already made a decision to go to NYU, I stuck with that and went to NYU, and there I finished my undergraduate work.
As I was finishing my undergraduate work, and opening occurred in one of the labs. I figured if an opening occurred in one of the labs, I’m going to try to get into it no matter what the lab was.
What year was this?
This was in 1947, I guess.
So you were 25?
Yes. Anyway, the lab that opened up was a cosmic ray lab. It so happens that there are a lot of rays, actually particles, which fall upon the earth from outer space. These are called cosmic rays, and this laboratory studied these rays, concerning their energy, and what their composition was. And so I joined the cosmic ray lab, and I worked under the privilege of someone who was very well known in the field —
Named Morris Shames. And he ran the lab and he was a very pleasant fellow. All I did — actually, all I did was I followed instructions when I first went up there, as to making circuits and also building Geiger counters. We had to build our own Geiger counters because ordinary Geiger counters were not sensitive enough to pick up the weak cosmic rays that were falling on the earth.
What’s a Geiger counter?
A Geiger counter is a device for detecting charged particles like electrons, protons, and so on.
And so we built these very large Geiger counters, and set up on a ray, sort of like a telescope. And so this ray would point to various directions in the sky and thereby measure the energies of these cosmic rays coming in. Uh, so I inherited a project of someone who had already finished his work in cosmic rays, a graduate student who had finished up his work, and so I inherited his equipment, and I took on the job of measuring what are called the energy levels of the cosmic rays — the low energy levels of the cosmic rays, which were not understood at that time, because nobody else had measured that region of the cosmic ray spectrum. And so I took on the job of measuring those kinds of rays and eventually I wrote my masters thesis based on the information that I was able to gather from my telescope.
After that, I —
What was your masters thesis called?
“Low Energy Cosmic Rays,” I guess. I think so, something like that. I stayed on for a while to attempt to do a Ph.D., however I did not succeed. And so, as a result, I got a job in Long Island, and I worked for a company out there called Airborne Instruments. And, I worked there for a while, although I didn’t quite fit in to the work that they were doing. They were doing a lot of electronic circuits and also various kinds of, uh, waves, that I had very little experience with. So I eventually looked for another job, which I then found out in Deerpark, Long Island, in the — what do you call it — in the aircraft industry — the space aircraft industry. And, I, uh, I then, uh, I then joined the staff there, and one of the things that they did which I enjoyed very much, was they were setting up computer programming. Computer programming, was, uh, was not that prevalent at that time, and so what they did was they first they were to send me to Columbia, at what was called the Watson lab, I learned how to program what is called a C — computer, uh — CDC? — I forget. Anyways, it was a slow digital —
(Steve: Control Data Corporation.)
Not controlled. Card. No — CPC. Card Program Calculator, that’s it.
What year was this?
This was in 1960. Around 1960, That’s right.
Now, did you know Grandma at some point in this?
Oh yes, right.
Because I know Daddy was born in 1959. So —
For that I have to back up. We have to back up to the cosmic ray lab that I worked in.
Okay, let’s back up to the cosmic ray lab.
Right. Uh, in this period, Grandma was going to Columbia —
Cornell. Grandma was going to Cornell, and — during the regular semester, and she was teaching at NYU during the summer. And so, since I was also teaching at NYU during the summer — well, I was teaching there anyway — but I was teaching at NYU, she was teaching at NYU, and obviously I met her. The following year she —
Um, how did you meet her?
Oh, she was also working in the cosmic ray lab, so we were pretty much together. Anyway, the following year she came back and did it again, I guess at around that time I decided to go out with her, and she decided to go out with me, and so we —
Did you ask her?
I guess so. (To Norma) Do you remember? Anyway, and then we went out, and then, uh, shortly after that we decided to get married.
How did that play out?
That actually played out this way. We went for a rowboat ride in Central Park. (Norma: No — Prospect Park.) Prospect Park? Okay, maybe it was Prospect Park. In one of the parks. We went for a rowboat ride. And, uh —
Were you rowing?
I guess so. Uh, and, uh, I suggested we get married, and your Grandma agreed.
Yes. I suggested it.
(Laughing) So that’s where Grandma comes into the story.
Um, okay. Now let’s get back to the CPC — Card Program Calculator. Uh, the, uh, Fairchild, the company I worked for, had acquired a CPC, called a 650. That’s what it was. An IBM 650. And they sent me to, uh, the school at Columbia that’s called the Watson Lab, where Columbia had set up a study program to familiarize people to be familiar with the, uh, with that machine. And so I became very familiar with that machine, and, in fact, I enjoyed it very much in that I was able to program things on my own. And so, uh, when I came back after going to that school for a while, I was able to then establish myself by programming a rather complicated engineering problem, having to do with, um, setting up what was called a detonation tunnel. That is, we were involved with setting up high speed air flowing, at also detonating, that is, exploding, chemicals in that air flow. Which is not a simple problem. But anyway, I set up the program to make that calculation, and eventually it was built, and it was — it worked very well.
What did you use it for?
For experimentation. Experimenting how to control the explosive effect of the — of the explosives in that wind tunnel.
Uh, now that worked pretty well until about 1970. This is during the sixties, right. So then until 1970, when Fairchild went out of business. However, they kept on a staff, which I stayed on, in order for them to tidy up. But anyway, n that period, I continued doing some experimental work, but I eventually decided — I knew that I was going to have to leave there, and so I went over to Republic. And at Republic, again there, I joined the engineering staff, for what is setting up a program for converting nuclear energy into electricity directly. See, you can always make electricity out of nuclear energy if you simply make things hot enough, boil some water, and have a steam engine.
I didn’t realize it was that easy.
Oh, well, it’s relatively easy. However, if you want to make electricity directly from nuclear energy, the device that we set up was this: we had a nuclear energy surrounded by a — what was called a cathode, which, when heated up, emitted electrons.
I just did a project about this!
Okay — electrons. And these electrons were collected by what was the anode, or the plate, and this was then sent out — the electricity was then sent out to a circuit, and then came back, reheated, and continued like that. To make it an efficient device that would work, under the circumstances that we wanted, required a lot of engineering and fooling around. And so that’s what I was doing until roughly around 1980. In 1980, Fairchild moved out. They went out to the south, down to Maryland, and I was out of a job for a while. So, rather than get back — get into the nuclear business again, I went — I started teaching. And I started teaching at Staten Island Community College. I was teaching in the physics department, astronomy department, math department, various things that I was pretty well-skilled in.
What classes were you teaching?
Elementary classes. What do you mean?
Like what were the titles of the classes?
Oh, well, physics — Physics 1, Physics 2, thereabouts, or math — Math Calculus, and astronomy — Elementary Astronomy, of course. As a matter of fact, during that period, I was assigned to go — to go to jail. That is, I went to it weekly — I was assigned to go to a medium-security jail, where I was to hold classes. And the classes I was to hold were supposed to be astronomy. So I held astronomy classes in jail. At one time I asked, “Could I take the class out to look at the stars?” No way.
Well, didn’t they have an area around the jail? No?
No, well, I don’t know. No. The thing is this: they had — they confined us to a classroom. And when I asked her, “Could I take the class out to look at the stars?” No way. They have to be under control all the time. So anyway, so I taught, um —
You could have like, poked a hole through the roof or something.
Yeah, could. Anyway, so I was teaching astronomy for a while, and it went along pretty well, and eventually that finished and I went back to teaching at Staten Island, and I taught there until 1990. (Norma: No.) Yes. At that time, I was asked to take on the new job at Brooklyn College.
(Norma: You retired in 1990. You taught there from ’70 to ’80 in Staten Island, and then ’80 you took on the job at Brooklyn College.)
Wait, let me go back a little bit. I worked at Airborne Instruments until 1960. Between 1960 and 1970, I worked at Fairchild. No — Yes, between 1960 and 1970 I worked at Fairchild. 1970 to 1980 I worked at Republic.
(Norma: Wrong. You want me to correct?)
Okay, what is it?
(Norma: The fact of the matter is, when we were expecting Steven, that was 1959.)
Wait, wait, okay.
(Norma: At that time, the job at Fairchild became very tenuous. You’re ten years off.)
Okay, yes, I see where my mistake was. I was working at Airborne Instruments —
(Norma: That was from about ’52 until about ’56 or thereabout.)
(Norma: And then by 1960, the job at Fairchild became rather tenuous…)
(Norma: .. and we were thinking of buying a house then, thank God we didn’t buy the house then, out on Long Island, because what if you had gotten a new job in Staten Island?)
(Norma: Now, that was 1960. In 1970, your job at, um, what do you call it? — Republic fizzled.)
Fizzled? Wait, started. Wait, hold on. Between 1960 and 1970,
(Norma: You worked at Republic.)
I worked at Republic. Between 1970 and 1980…
(Norma: You were at Brooklyn College as a lab tech. No, I’m sorry. In 1970 to 1980, you were at Staten Island and at Polytech.)
(Norma: And in 1980 you got the job at Brooklyn College, where you were in charge of the lab staff, and in 1990, you retired.)
Right. I retired in 1990. Right. Okay, so I’ll go through the dates again. Up until 1960 I was working at Fairchild. From 1960 to 1970 I worked at Republic, where we were working on the direct conversion of nuclear energy into electricity, in 1970 to 1980, I was teaching. I taught at Staten Island and also at Brooklyn Polytech. Now, in 1980, I took on a full-time job at Brooklyn College to run their undergraduate laboratory classes. And then I worked there for 10 years, which brought us to 1990.
Which lab classes did you teach?
I set up classes for teaching the labs in undergraduate physics. Things like motion of objects, of setting up electricity — not electricity — that’s right, electrical phenomena, things like that. Lights, objects, and things like that were all part of the job. I was — obviously, it was a job that I was overly qualified for, since I could do these things with my hands tied behind my back, but anyway, I liked the job, it kept me busy, and I actually found it somewhat interesting, too, to set up these courses, and also to help the instructors, actually, to perform the experiments, the demonstrations, I should say, so that they were most effective. I think that was pretty good.
Uh, so in 1990 I retired, and I acquired at that time a computer, and, uh, I’ve been on the computer ever since.
And nothing happened in between?
Nothing happened in between.
No kids or anything?
Oh, yes. In between, in 1960, Chaim was born. In 1959, your father was born, and in 1960, Chaim was born. Those were the significant things that happened in that period.
Nothing’s happened since then? No grandchildren?
Oh yeah, there was something. I guess so.
(Norma: 1985 was the first grandchild.)
1985? There was what? Yaakov?
(Norma: Both of them.)
Right. There were Yaakov and Avi.
(Norma: In 1987, there were two grandchildren. Your first granddaughter, and Binyamin. In 1991…)
No… You’re missing one.
(Norma: Oh, in 1989, Nachum was born, and in 1991, Sara was born. But she knows all of this already.)
What have you been doing since you retired?
Computers — well, I do a lot of reading.
What do you read?
Newspapers, and also I read occasionally some of the things which I read previously.
Well, magazines, we get a supply of magazines and newspapers which I keep up to date. The magazines which keep me up to date on the current events in science. Uh, other things which I read — I guess I can’t think of anything off-hand.
Who’s your favorite author?
Oh, well I told it to you already — Dickens. Yeah.
Well, good to know I get it from someone.
And — what’s your favorite movie?
I don’t know if I have a favorite movie.
What’s your favorite Broadway show?
Well, I don’t know. The things is I really don’t have favorites. There are just some things I like and some things I don’t like as much.
Well what do you like?
Well one of the things I like is, uh, South Pacific was a great show as far as I’m concerned. Phantom of the Opera was a very good one also, I liked that one. Um, let’s see — what’s another one that I liked? Oh, another one that I liked very much was Where’s Charlie?, with Ray Boger(?). I liked that one very much.
Uh, also I guess I like musicals.
And, uh, what about music? What kind of music do you like?
Well, in general I prefer classical music to the current crazes.
“Current crazes”? Like what? Like pop music?
Yeah, pop music in general, right.
Do you have a favorite composer?
Yeah, I like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, uh, Bach — yeah, those guys.
All the dead guys?
Yeah, all the dead guys, right.
What about — what kind of music do you remember liking when you were younger?
When I was younger — I can’t think of anything in particular.
(Steve: How about Gershwin?)
Yeah, Gershwin I liked. I don’t know if he’s that outstanding as compared to anybody else though, but yeah, I liked him, yes.
I like Irving Berlin’s stuff.
Irving Berlin, too. You’re right. In fact, we went to a sort of a seminar on Irving Berlin which I found very interesting.
What about Irving Berlin? What was the seminar about?
The seminar was about his life and his music.
Yeah, he had a good life. I don’t think that was his name, though.
No, it wasn’t.
He changed his name.
Yeah, a lot of them change their names.
I don’t understand why.
Well, at one time, I guess, having a particularly Jewish name was not desirable. Not like that doesn’t happen anymore.
Your name isn’t particularly Jewish either.
Well, — I think it is, more or less, even though Eisenhower, obviously, was not Jewish.
Well, you said that you were the subject of anti-Semitism earlier. Were there not a lot of Jews in Brooklyn like there are now?
There were — there were Jewish sections of Brooklyn. But I wasn’t living in a Jewish section. The section I lived in was mainly Catholic, Irish, and, uh, Italian.
Has the demographic here changed?
I don’t know what my old neighborhood consists of now. I think it’s mostly minorities by now. But, uh, that’s something separate. After I got married, I was no longer in those kinds of neighborhoods anymore.
Where did you live after?
We lived on Ocean Avenue, after we were married, and then we moved to roughly the Sheepshead Bay area, and then we moved to roughly the edge of Canarssy, and then here. We chose this place as our retirement abode.
It’s a nice place.
Mm-hmm. The thing is this: I didn’t have to worry about gardening and, uh, fixing the faucets every so often. We have that done here. This is a co-op. And so, if we have a problem with the faucets we simply call the maintenance staff and they take care of it.
I think you moved before I was born, right?
We moved here in 1982.
Oh, yeah. I was born in 1987.
So, that’s it I think.
That’s the story.
That’s the story?. Are we — that’s it?
Yeah, I don’t know if you used up enough time, but —
Well, if you have something to add —
No, I think that’s about it.
Thank you, very much.
We’re not done yet, I lied.
In terms of childhood stuff, do you have any stories or recollections about your family?
Well, uh, I was probably closest to certain relatives. For example, like, uh, my aunt Lena’s children — I was pretty close to them. That’s, Joey, Elsie, and Maddie. I was pretty close to them. I was also close to my father’s sister’s children. That was Ida. That’s my father’s sister Ida. Her family we were pretty close to also, uh, and also in the summertime I think a lot of us would go to the Catskills. We used to go up there for two months at a time even. Two months. Uh, I guess those are the things that kind of stand out in my childhood, I can’t really think of anything else.
Did anything funny ever happen in the Catskills? Or anything, like, memorable?
Yes. One thing that was happening — when I went swimming in the lake, I used to put on one of those tubes, to keep me afloat. And so I used to swim with one of those tubes. And then one day I found that the tube had disappeared, and apparently my mother was in the water, and she had pulled it off, and I was apparently swimming without the tube. That’s all. I concluded therefore that I could swim without a tube.
Okay. It’s like riding a bike, when you sort-of just let go.
How about your parents? Any recollections?
How were they?
They were fine. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything spectacular.
Were they strict?
No, moderate. They were nice people, right.
I guess — how would you describe them?
As moderate. That’s all. Nothing spectacular. My father worked in a candy store, really, he was stationed at a candy store, and, although I never really liked to be behind the counter in that store, occasionally I had to be.
Why didn’t you like it?
I just didn’t like the idea of being behind the counter. But, uh, and — one of my enjoyable things was Saturday, because Saturday I would go to the movies. And that was a really enjoyable afternoon for me. I really enjoyed going to the movies on Saturday. Uh, in fact, that’s where a lot of my background is.
In the movies?
Yeah. People would ask me about old shows that existed in those days, and frequently I can record them — recollect them.
What kinds of movies, or what kinds of shows?
Oh, all kinds. For example, like, uh, movies like Boat Jest, or comedies — I used to enjoy comedies like Oliver Hardy (?) and, uh, Charlie Chaplin — I used to enjoy those very much. Also mysteries. I enjoyed mysteries a lot. In fact, I used to read a lot of mystery books. Like Philo Vance. Some of them have also been made into movies. Which I enjoy much. Having read the book, I can then see that on the screen.
Alright. What about —
Also westerns I read a lot too.
I don’t think I’ve read any.
Yeah, well Zane Grey I used to read a lot. I forget the other names. I can’t think of them off-hand. But anyway, there were a lot of western writers that I enjoyed.
Did your mother used to cook?
What kind of stuff?
Uh, what kinds of stuff? Uh, she used to make gefilte fish.
From what kind of fish?
Uh, I don’t know. I know this incident: In the house we lived in , we lived on the top floor. There were three stories. The store was the first floor, then the middle story, then we lived on the top floor. My grandparents lived in the middle floor. Comes around Passover time, they would buy a live fish and put it in the bathtub.
You really had a fish in the bathtub?
We really had a fish in the bathtub. It was a big fish.
Did you ever get to be friends with it?
I — I didn’t speak its language.
Anyway, I guess what they eventually did is that they killed it and we ate it.
Who killed it?
I don’t know. I didn’t.
I wasn’t asked to do it.
It was a big fish?
Yes, it was about this big I think (gestures), as I recall.
Where did they get it from?
I guess from some fisherman. I don’t know. All I do is I remember seeing it in the bathtub.
Where did you take baths when the fish was in there?
Well, it wasn’t in there that often. For that long.
Oh. Okay. And this was every…
I don’t know. All I remember is one incident with the fish. I don’t remember if it was there every year or not.
What was the incident?
Oh, but was there a story behind it?
No, nothing in particular.
And, what else did she make?
Uh, meats, various kinds of meats, chicken, things like that. Usual stuff, I think. Then she usually prepared on shabbos and stuff like that.
Is there anything you particularly remember?
Not particularly. I really wasn’t interested in food in those days, so I don’t really remember. Though, I’m not really interested in food now, since I don’t really have much of an appetite.
Eh, it’ll come back.
Yeah, I hope so.
Um, what about — trying to think — what about the television?
Well, in 1948, I believe, 1947, 1948, my parents acquired a television set which had a screen, I don’t know, about ten inches wide or so. About that, ten or twelve inches wide. And, uh, that was the first time we had television. That set, I think, cost us about four-hundred dollars, and, uh, so, that was our first encounter with television. And, uh, I remember one of the things my parents used to watch pretty avidly was that comic — not Irving Berlin —
No, no, no, what’s his name.
(Steve: Sid Caesar?)
No — Sid Caesar was one of them, right, yes, but the one I’m trying to think of —
(Steve: Milton Berle?)
Milton Berle, that’s it. I didn’t watch that much. They did anyway. I was studying at the time.
What were you studying?
I was going to school.
Okay. And how many channels did you have?
I guess, I don’t know. I think the same number as we have now. 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13?
Same number you have now.
Yeah. Oh yeah, right.
A regular TV has what? Like —
One hundred, nine hundred, three hundred.
Of course, it was black and white.
It’s funny. I found out a couple of years ago that — what’s her name — Lucille Ball has red hair.
What? You didn’t know that?
No… I figured it was, like, blonde or something. Because you can’t ever tell!
And, do you remember when they had Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on TV?
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s what?
Oh, yes. I saw that. Yes.
Was there a story around that?
No, I guess, I remember watching it, and discussing it with my colleagues. Coming home I used to carpool a lot, in those days, when I was working out on Long Island, and we used to discuss these things like television shows. Yeah.
Because I remember somebody saying that — I think Mommy says that it was like one of the most watched programs.
All right. Is there anything you want to add?
Nothing that I can think of offhand. Except for that I barely mentioned now that I used to carpool a lot, when I was working out on Long Island, the first job I had on Long Island was in Mineola. And there I used to drive to work frequently, or I would take the railroad. My second job on Long Island was at Fairchild, which was out in Deerpark, Long Island, and I did a lot of commuting back and forth with other people who came from Brooklyn or Queens, and we used to meet someplace along the route, and we all used to get into one car and from that point on drive out to Deerpark, which was for me a forty-mile trip. After Deerpark, I then went to Republic, and there also I did a lot of carpooling by driving to a meeting spot and then driving out to Farmingdale.
What kind of car did you have?
The first car I had was a Ford, then I think Grandma learned to drive and we got another car called a Rambler.
A Rambler, yes.
What color was it?
Bluish I think. And, after the Rambler, we got, uh —
(Steve: Plymouth Belvedere.)
(Steve: When you sold the Ford, you got — in 1965 you got a Plymouth Belvedere.)
Oh right. So I made a mistake. After the Ford was the —
(Steve: No, no, no, no, no. The Rambler was a second car in 1962, you didn’t sell the Ford. But when you sold the Ford, in 1965, you bought the Plymouth.)
Oh I see.
(Steve: And you had the Plymouth and the Rambler until 1969, you sold the Rambler and bought the Satellite. The Plymouth Satellite.)
The Satellite. Uh-huh.
(Steve: Which was my first car.)
What color was it?
I don’t remember. My memory isn’t as great as it used to be. Not that it was ever really great. But, uh, I really don’t remember.
(Steve: How about the Brooklyn Dodgers?)
Oh yes, the Dodgers. In the 1940s, especially, I used to be an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan, in fact I used to go to Ebbets Field pretty often, and watch them play, because in those you couldn’t watch it on television because it wasn’t broadcast. So I used to go to Ebbets Field quite a bit.
Was it expensive to get in?
What — 55 cents to the bleachers.
Which are considered the bleachers?
The seats way out in center field.
Okay. And, um —
(Steve: How about radio programs?)
Okay. Radio programs. Right. Well one of the things I used to watch was Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Listen to actually, not watched. That’s right. Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Bobby Benson of the H-Bar-O, uh, Little Awful Annie — Little Orphan Annie, uh, yes, one of the other programs that I watched was the, uh, Creeping Door, Inner Sanctum, uh, The Phantom, Fibber McGee and Molly —
What were all these programs about?
Well these were adventure programs, except for McGee and Molly was a comedy, then I also, uh, on Sunday, watched Eddie Kantor, a comedy show, and Jack Benny, another a comedy show, and during the weekdays was Fred Alley, I didn’t care for him very much but I used to watch anyway, he was okay too. I used to watch him when he was on television. Yeah. Those are the ones that stand out I guess in my mind, mostly.
Okay. Um — Do you remember anything about Ebbets Field?
Oh yeah. I can picture it right now.
Okay, what does it look like?
Well, it had a left field, a center field, and it had a fence in right field, that the ball hit to right field would almost always be — would almost always hit up against the fence and therefore become an extra base-hit.
Does that mean they could get to bases?
Yes. One more base, right.
And, um —
And of course, in those days, the Dodgers weren’t doing very well, and they were referred to as “Dem Bums”.
Dem — D-E-M Bums.
Dem Bums. And, how did you feel when they moved to Los Angeles?
Because I felt that they should remain in Brooklyn, as a Brooklyn team.
Did you continue to root for them?
Uh, no, I didn’t.
Who do you root for now?
Uh, Mets I guess, more than anyone else.
You don’t follow baseball so much?
Not that much, right.
Did the Dodgers and the Mets and the Yankees all exist at the same time?
No. The Mets did not exist in those days. There were the Dodgers and the Giants — there were three New York teams. The Brooklyn Team were the Dodgers, and there were two New York teams: the Giants in the national league, and the Yankees in the American league.
Aren’t the Giants from San Francisco?
They moved too?
They moved also, yes.
California steals all the teams!
Did they players from the Dodgers move to Los Angeles?
Well the players went, yes.
Well, I mean, because the owner could just take the team out to Los Angeles with all new players, right?
And what about listening to the game on the radio? Did you ever listen on the radio?
Oh yeah, many times. In fact one of the things I used to do when the World Series was on I used to get a play by — I used to put up a sign showing the number of runs in each inning, and I used to place it on my store window — the running total of the runs as the game was being played.
So the store was the first floor of the building that you lived in?
What was the store called?
What do you mean what was it called?
What was the title — the name of the store?
Uh — Candy Store — Uh — Candy Store and Stationery Store.
That’s what it said on the outside?
I guess so. I don’t remember for sure.
That’s about it, I guess.
Okay. Well, if you think of anything else, you’ll let me know. We should do this again sometime.
Well, okay, thank you very much. Okay.
So here is my inner dialogue:
Right-Shoulder Smurf: Dude, too bad you didn’t survive the whole summer in that tent. You’re such a wimp.
Left-Shoulder Smurf: Holy Amazeballs! You lasted sixteen days in that tent! Considering you’ve never been in a tent longer than two nights, I call that a great success.
Good thing my Left-Shoulder Smurf is ridiculously boisterous.
Seriously, though. People “go into nature” to find themselves, to learn about themselves, and to commune with the natural environment God gave us. Frankly, I did that. Having lived in a tent these past two weeks, I have learned a lot about myself, and have had ample opportunity to appreciate the calming sounds of the birds and the rustling of leaves and the quiet of the breeze, the rich smell of growing wood, and the beautiful landscape that contained, other than tents, virtually no human structures.
So why did I move to a bunk?
For one, though I also appreciated, to some degree, the sound of “love drops” (a.k.a. “rain”) on the roof of my tent. Just not the 3 AM pummeling. And the 4 AM. Oh, and at 7 AM when I needed to get ready for work and so needed to go the five-minute walk up to the nearest bunk to brush my teeth.
Here are the things I learned about myself:
1. I’m a People-Person. Yes, people who need people are, in fact, the luckiest people in the world. (Thank you, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.) Though this community and this experience is a microcosm of the world at large, I learned that living so far from everyone, and having to retreat to silence and solitude every night is lonely. I’d rather be in the center of things and readily accessible to people than all the way on the outskirts of community.
2. Mosquitos are NOT My Friends. 32 Mosquito bites in 5 days. ‘Nuff said.
3. I’m Not as Good at Sleeping as I Used to Be. In elementary school, the bus driver picked us up first, at 6:45 AM, and I routinely slept the entire hour-and-a-quarter-long bus trip. Considering how exhausting camp is, you’d think we’d sleep like logs. I woke up 6 times last night just because of rain.
4. I Prefer to Be in Close Proximity to a Bathroom. Again, I think this one is self-explanatory. A five minute walk to the bathroom, to shower, or brush teeth, or anything else, is really not my idea of fun. I also think sleeping in sheets just feels cleaner than sleeping consistently in a sleeping bag. Particularly when, because of the weather, the sleeping bag is consistently wet.
5. I’m Not an Outdoorsy Person. My sister told me this before I left. I didn’t deny that she was probably right, but I wanted to have a new experience. So… been there, done that. Would I go camping again? Sure — for a weekend.
6. I’m Good at Trying New Things, But I Know My Limits. This whole summer is a new experience for me. I’m trying a lot of new things all at once, but I think it’s important when to know that not everything new will continue to be a good experience. So we censor ourselves, and we make adjustments. Life is about the ebb and flow of positive experiences. Some experiences, like interpersonal relationships, stay positive; others turn sour or experience turbulence and we need to adapt. So here I am, adapting.
As my Shoulder-Smurfs keep fighting it out, I think at least in the overall experience I’m patting myself on the back for knowing well enough when to back away for my personal health and happiness. Okay, maybe I’m a little sad that it didn’t work out. Maybe I’ll feel differently after a good full-night’s sleep.
Light breaks through.
It was night just minutes ago.
I am not a poet,
Yet here I am, inspired to verse.
Change happens so rapidly,
Set in my ways,
Or so I think,
I suddenly realize I am different today
Light breaks through;
It was night just moments ago.
A calm inspiration seized me.
I have succumbed to it.
I come home from the soaring
in which I lost myself.
I was song, and the refrain which is God
is still roaring in my ears.
Now I am still
no more words.
To the others I was like a wind:
I made them shake.
I’d gone very far, as far as the angels,
and high, where light thins into nothing.
But deep in the darkness is God…
From Rilke’s Book of Hours, I,50.
I sense that by the end of summer, when I do finally settle down at home, these words will be even more potent for me than they are in this moment, striking as they are right now.
So far, so good. Camp is going well, I’m enjoying myself and trying many new things – today was yoga. I’m no butterfly, but I’m learning. Pluralism is touchy. Didn’t have the greatest Shabbat this week, but maybe I’m just homesick or feeling out of place. Perhaps I’ll write about it after I have another Shabbat under my belt.
My observation and what’s been on my heart this Shabbat, actually, is musical.
The camp where I’m working has a really interesting musical repertoire. The songs sung here are largely not the “typical” Jewish summer camp songs (at least, based on the camps in which I’ve been a camper and staff, which are all Ramah camps). Sure, every now and then we are graced with a niggun (mostly by Carlebach), but more often than not the songs being sung are Negro spirituals, or borrowed from church groups. They are American folk songs. Every now and then we hear a melody that rings South African or African tribal. Often we chant mantras, a concept that is borrowed from the Buddhist tradition – even if they are chanted using Hebrew text, they don’t ring “Jewish”.
Though it’s a Jewish camp experience, I’m really missing Jewish music. Where have all the augmented-seconds gone?? (For the record, someday I will teach the whole world that Carlebach’s Psalm 29 is not in major.)
Beyond my own yearning, though, came a different sadness. While I acknowledge that we benefit greatly from knowing others’ musical traditions, it’s still a little sad to think that faith groups, cultural groups, and national groups no longer own their own music. We fell that we can sing mantras that ring Buddhist, spirituals that ring African American, chants that ring African, gospel music that rings Baptist. We no longer have to intercourse with these groups in order to share music — we feel entitled and able to sing it for ourselves. But to what end? Because it is meaningful? Why can’t we find meaning in our own music? Why can’t we reinvigorate and compose within our own faith tradition? Why did we abandon our own song?
The poet asks in Psalm 133, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Is this the Lord’s song? Scratch that. Is this our Lord’s song?
Perhaps blurring the lines is a benefit. Perhaps it creates a Unity of Humankind. There are those who would tell you that a Unity of Humankind is exactly what we’ve always been hoping for. After all, the second paragraph of Alénu does tell us that “all flesh and blood will call in [God’s] name.” Well, it’s a nice story, but it doesn’t account for our differences — our beautiful differences. The world is a wonderful place because each person has his/her own voice. Does that principle not extend to cultural groups? Frankly, other faith groups don’t go around singing Jewish music. Maybe they sing a piece or two in choral settings; but not often in worship. And how would we feel if they did?
Yes, we know historically there was cross-sharing when it came to musical traditions. Melodies from the synagogue made their way into the church service, while secular and some church melodies made their way into the synagogue. (For more on this, see Eric Werner’s The Sacred Bridge.) I don’t know — this feels different. William Sharlin talks about active assimilation versus passive assimilation of music: in “active assimilation” (which he discourages), outside music traditions are forced into Jewish worship, while “passive assimilation” allows them to permeate the borders of the music tradition with out being obtrusive. This doesn’t feel like borrowing and repurposing; it feels like stealing.
Then again, as one of my mentors once said, “Who am I to prevent anyone from being exposed to this music?”
So we hang in the balance. In a place that doesn’t insist on a prerequisite knowledge of Hebrew, how do I introduce more Jewish songs into the ethos? Can I leave a uniquely Jewish thumbprint? Can I insist on musical seclusion? Well, probably not. Definitely what to think about as we near the start of the camping season.
Day 3 of training concluded at camp.
Did you know before you can get calluses on your fingers from playing the guitar you have to endure blisters?
Really, it’s only been three days?
Tonight was the first night I didn’t fall into my tent.
And it took me fifteen minutes to find my tent instead of thirty. I didn’t have to hunt today.
I made some new friends.
I remember almost everyone’s name. Almost 100 people.
The rule of three: there should always be three people traveling together. One to get hurt, one to stay with the injured one, and one to get help.
Getting hurt is not a requirement. Generally, we encourage against it.
Shoes should always have back straps.
Music is amazing, and infuses everything.
Seven more days of training to go.
It feels like it has already been an eternity since I got here. That’s camp.
Is it still bedtime if I’m in a sleeping bag?
Here I sit in my tent, after a sufficiently long day of packing, driving, meeting new people, singing, communing with nature, farming…
What Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” does not tell us is how the narrator felt five steps into his journey on the lesser-traveled fork. He tells us that his choice had ultimately “made all the difference,” sure — but what about the immediate feelings? Was he immediately sure? Had he chosen with conviction? Five steps into the journey, did he stop in his tracks and ponder retreat to the more-common road?
Rarely have I stood five steps into what promises to be a relatively long road and known with conviction that it would make all the difference. And here I am, knowing, somehow, that my life will be changed by the experience I have ahead of me. Knowing, somehow that the change has already begun.
Today, I weeded in the farm’s edible plant forest. I watched later as seventy people sat silently, each alone but in community, in that farm. I was privy to meaningful sharing in which no one made a single sarcastic remark, no one rolled their eyes, no one was disparaging. I watched as flame emerged from only wood and friction. I taught today; but more than that, I learned.
As I sit in my tent in these dark woods, I can hear the lake rushing out to my left. I can hear the occasional animal creeping by. I am taken by the sound of small branches falling periodically on my roof.
I am surprised by how comfortable I feel to be here. I am pleasantly surprised by how calm I am. And yet, excited. More to come.
As Shabbat ended on Saturday night, I went outside to check for three stars. For a few minutes, I was able to appreciate the bright slender moon, the lovely and clear cobalt-blue darkening sky, and I was able to watch as the stars appeared on the expanse one at a time. In this world of electronics and eternal hurry, we still rely on natural signals to know what time Shabbat ends.
Here is my attempt at “crunchy granola”. I’m as yekkish as they come most of the time…
Which is not to say that I don’t love nature, and is not to say that I don’t appreciate a spiritual moment. It is to say that I prefer the structures provided for me by traditional liturgy and traditional praxis.
So… A journey. This summer will be a journey. Maybe I should say tefillat haderekh before I go. Am I really worried about scary things interfering with my journey? Well, no. Although I do pray that God will keep the ticks, scary animals, and biting bugs as far away from me as possible.
Instead of the traditional tefillat haderekh, I pray for open-mindedness. I pray for guidance to allow my teaching to actualize the potential in my students. I pray for success of my own and my fellows’ endeavors.