Call him Bertram, born Bertram Avery Goldstein in Brooklyn NY to Stanley and Lori Goldstein. They gave him a Hebrew name, Baruch, which was used only when he was called up to the Torah to receive an aliya. Otherwise, it was always Bertram, in public elementary school, high school, and university. Stanleyand Lori also had a daughter a few years younger than Bertram. They named her Marion, and although never really used, the Hebrew name Malka was also given to the girl.
Well, my friend Stanley and I were close for several years. We even did a few crazy things together while both of us were in the JDL while simultaneously working as high school teachers in Staten Island.
Oh, yes, Stanley is about 77 by now. We haven’ttalked with each other since August, 1982. With the wisdom of age, I look back now and place part of the blame for that loss of friendship on myself, but part of the fault was also Stan’s. I erred by assuming that I could be totally blunt by telling the truth to a close friend. Stanley erred—not by refusing to acknowledge the validity of what I told him but blaming me for hurting his feelings which resulted in the terminat-ion ofour friendship.
In retrospect, Stan, although he loved Israel, was an armchair Zionist. By 1979 Lois and I had two children, Batya and Avi, both born in Staten Island. We took a trip to Israel that year, WITH THE TWO CHILDREN, and returned fully committed to planning our aliya. I even went to school at night to learn dental technology in anticipation of a new career in Israel. (It never worked out but that’s another story). During the three years leading up to our aliya, I occasionally chided Stan for not planning to do likewise. His excuses went something like this:
“My kids [then ten and thirteen] are too young to adjust to the food in Israel.”
By the time both of Stan’s kids were teenagers, the excuse morphed into
“How could I interrupt their education midway through high school? They’ll suffer so much trying to make the adjustment.”
By the time Bertram was finishing high school, another reason to delay aliya cropped up:
“I want them to get their college degrees first before uprooting them.” The following year Stan came up with yet another excuse, perhaps the only valid one among the many.
“It would be stupid of me to leave before I put in my twenty years to receive my pension.”
By the time my furniture was already being shipped to Israel, I sat on the staircase in my near-empty house when Stan dropped in on me. He staredlistlessly at the empty rooms and remarked, “Sy, you’re really serious -- you’re really going through with it!”
He joined me on the staircase. “Stan,” I replied, “in one year from now you will have put in your t wenty years for your pension. Hey, old buddy, you’ve just about run out of excuses.”
Stan turned to face me, “You’re right. I guess that I have run out of excuses.” Slowly he said goodbye, wished me good luck, and left quietly. I didn’t realize it at the time, how much I unintentionally hurt him. He knew that I was right but perhaps I should have spared him that parting shot. The Talmud cautions us that sometimes words can kill and unwittingly I misjudged my friend’s ability to handle the truth. In classical Freudian “displacement,” Stan transferred his resentment of the truth to resentment of me . . . and to a lesser extent, to the State of Israel.
Stan’s driving obsession had always been to make sure that his son Bertram went to a good university and learn a profession that paid well. Bertram event-ually graduated with a degree in architecture, married four days later, and apprenticed in Pennsylvania. Eventually he moved to Oregon and set up his own company. He prospered to the point where he needed a partner. Fred Strickland (not Jewish) eventually moved with his family to Oregon (he adored the nature and scenery there) to become Bertram’s partner. The business thrived and was pulling in $100,000 per month. Not bad, I would say, by any standard. Bertram bought a luxury home and fathered 3 children in the mean-time.
Along the way, Bertram became a bit paranoid, perhaps because of the excessive amount of drugs he was beginning to take to treat his back pain. He became quarrelsome to the point where Fred Strickland left the partnership and moved to the other side of town where he opened his own firm. Some of the people who had availed themselves of Fred’s talent preferred him to Bertram and when Fredset up his own business, some of his former clients switched over to him. Bertram accused Fred of stealing ALL of his clients (which was totally untrue) and began to talk of taking revenge.
In the meantime Bertram began to have extramarital affairs (all with gentile women) on the side. His wife divorced him and somewhere along the line Bertram hired an assassin who murdered Fred. Both Bertram and the assassin were tried and convicted.Bertram received a life sentence although he will be eligible for parole in 2028.
I can’t even begin to imagine the grief and heartache that Stan and Lori went and are still going through from 2005 until the present. Their lives must have been shattered. Before you ask me why I did not get in touch with them all these years the reason is simple: I did not find out about Bertram’s conviction (in 2006) until three weeks ago. (How is also another story).
Where did Bertram/Baruch go wrong. He was such a sweet young man when I last saw him when he was eighteen. Now I recall several lines from a dialogue in the 1959 movie “Ben Hur”:
Pontius PilateJudah Ben Hur
Well, Baruch, although not physically dead, had killed his career, his marriage, and, to some extent, his parents and himself. But the deed was not totally Baruch’s. I knew him well, before the corruption and materialism of America spread in his blood. Baruch’s environment helped destroy him. He was allowed to get away with so many misdeeds along the way to the point that he probably thought of himself as invulnerable. Piles of money and a bevy of attractive women (all gentile) came easily, too easily to the man. Today, at the age of 56, he sits in an American prison, wondering if his parents will even be alive by the time he gets out . . . IF he gets out.No, God did not abandon Bertram but I’m in no position to judge whether the opposite is the case.
Stan, if only you had brought you family here, when there was still time, to raise your kids in a land where money isn’t everything . . .where our kids stillhave values and a sense of purpose beyond themselves. If only . . . .