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August 19, 2012
Sayings of My Father
My father was known as Louis Glick in English and Laibl Glick in Yiddish. He was born around 1900 in Meziboz, in the Russian Ukraine. When Fiddler on the Roof came out, he remarked that his shtetl, where the Baal Shem Tov developed Hassidism, could well have been the model for the movie.
During the first years of the Russian Revolution, the Tsarist Whites and the Communist Reds fought over Meziboz. One day the Red Army would enter the town, hand my father a rifle and order him to fight for the Communists. A few days later, the White Army would enter, hand him a rifle, and order him to fight for the tsar. A few days after that, the Cossacks would sweep in, each brandishing a sword in one hand and a rifle in the other and steering their horses with their knees. The Cossacks were not interested in Russian politics; they were interested in killing Jews.
During one raid, a Cossack fired his rifle at my father. But because his horse stumbled at the last moment, the bullet hit my father's leg instead of his head. Thinking that my father was dead, the Cossack turned his attention to another Jew, whom he killed. Then and there my father concluded that no matter who ruled Russia after the Revolution, the Jews would not be safe. So he fled to Belgium and worked as a longshoreman on the Antwerp docks until he was able to emigrate to America in 1920. He settled in Brooklyn.
Where necessary I translated his sayings from the Yiddish.
* * *
If each of us knew exactly when we were going to die, we would immediately cease to function.
If you don't grow older -- it's not good.
A day ambles; a year runs.
Growing up in a neighborhood where Jews are in the minority makes you learn quite quickly that most Americans are Christians.
With great writers like Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Isaac Leib Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, and Isaac Balshevis Singer, Yiddish is an exciting language, not a jargonized dialect.
If you grow up speaking two languages, learning a third and fourth one is easy.
To live well in your old age, do four things in sequence when you are young: get a job and do a good day's work. Save at least ten percent of the money you bring home. Invest it. Above all, be lucky.
Rich or poor, it's good to have money.
Money makes you free.
Pay your bills upon receipt.
Never buy anything on time.
Buy the best-made things that you can afford. They last and in the long run are cheaper.
The money you lose can be recouped. The courage you lose cannot.
Working with your head is harder than working with your hands.
Learn as much as you can. You never know when the knowledge will come in handy.
But remember that knowledge and wisdom are not synonyms.
Reading history and literature will not teach you how to make a living, but it may teach you how to make a life.
When comparing your lot in life, look to those below you, not to those above you.
Better a has-been than a never-was.
To avoid procrastination, follow the Yiddish dictum gezogt iz geton. (To say is to do.)
Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice.
Giving charity is the highest virtue. That is why in Hebrew the word for "righteous" and the word for "charity" come from the same root.
In America, two parents are able to take care of ten children, but ten children can't take care of two parents.
Treat everyone, especially young children, with dignity and respect.
If you can't say something nice about someone, say nothing.
The moment you marry her, your wife becomes the most important person in your life.
It's never in bad taste to tell a woman you haven't seen for a long time, "My dear, you are getting younger from day to day."
When going to a party, wear a jacket and tie. If you find that you are overdressed, you can remove them. The reverse is not possible.
To the people who collect the tolls at New York's Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge: "Can I buy the concession for a day?"
Edward Bernard Glick, who lives in Portland, Oregon, is a professor emeritus of political science at Temple University.
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