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                                                                                    July 1, 2018 / 8 Tamuz 5777
  I Knew Him Well . . . but Baruch Had Changed 
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. Stanley  and 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’t  talked 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 of  our 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 stared listlessly 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 Fred  set  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 Pilate                              Judah 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 still  have values and a sense of purpose beyond themselves. If only . . . .
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