Monday, October 1, 2012

Citizens of the World Part 2

Harold told me that he came to Minneapolis when he was offered a position with a large food products company.When I came here I knew nobody. All the big companies go around to the graduate schools and interview those who are about to leave. I was about to get my PhD from Northwestern, and they make me an offer. It was not so easy for Jewish boys to get offers, but it got easier all of a sudden because this is during the war(1943) and the government is giving money to companies who start research operations. So these companies wanted to start research operations and they needed researchers so all the graduates had no trouble getting jobs. 
He confided that he was the second Jew to get a job at that company. The first was Mr. Goldberg who was the janitor. In the end he became a Vice President, something that he believed was unique as far as Jewish employees.

This was at a time when Minneapolis had a reputation as highly anti-Semitic and finding employment as a Jew was challenging. Harold related how over time acquisitions brought in new Jewish employees. So they had to take them too. But today of course no company would dare to say they have such a policy, but they can still have it. But I think it’s changed, a good deal.

When Harold came to Minneapolis, Dorothy was a young widow. Her husband had been killed as an aviator in WWII one month before their son Ralph was born. Many in the Jewish community were happy to play matchmaker and when Harold entered the community he was encouraged to connect with Dorothy. They recalled meeting through several different organizations within the Jewish community which they happily attributed to "beshert" (destiny).

Son Ralph remembered vividly when he acquired a father. When his mother and Harold returned from their wedding Ralph greeted him as Hay-rold, his childhood pronunciation. He remembered Harold picking him up and saying “I’m not Hay-rold anymore, I’m your Daddy”.

Harold and Dorothy raised two children together and took in a foster child as well, a ten year old boy from the displaced persons camps. What was to be a temporary arrangement soon became permanent. He stayed until he married and was considered a third son. Dorothy noted that, “the reason (he) escaped was he had practically white hair and blue eyes so he was able to pass." Their son looked up to this new brother who “at the age of ten was in the underground smuggling people and weapons in and out of the camps. He was the guy who was passing as a Polish peasant lad on the haystack with partisans buried underneath.”

After raising her boys Dorothy returned to work as a medical social worker. As the director of social work for an area hospital she trained other social workers. Following a lengthy career Harold had no plans to retire. Dorothy had always wanted to make aliya in Israel so they picked up and moved to Israel. Harold continued to work as the director of research for an Israeli company and they lived in a small town in the desert. Several years later they moved to NY when Harold was sought for a position with a consulting firm. They lived there for some time and then did a stint at the London office. His job involved the development of a course in industrial chemistry that was quite unique. Harold taught that course all over the world, in Bangkok, Beijing, Africa and South America. While Harold taught chemistry, Dorothy taught English. She recounted how China was the most interesting teaching experience as they entered just as it opened to Americans. She told us, “They were so tremendously eager to learn and they would learn ahead before I was even there. That was a tremendous experience.” I was struck by her willingness to roll up her sleeves and jump in as she related assessing the range of knowledge in the class and then going to the main drag in China and getting books with which to teach.

I felt great admiration for this modest, yet accomplished couple who both shared a deep interest in the world around them. As we explored their legacy their son related his path as a community organizer, fed through his parents’ involvement in Labor Zionism. He cited their love of learning as a thread that continued to influence his life. Harold and Dorothy were citizens of the world, actively engaged and contributing wherever they went. This also clearly extended to their granddaughter who traveled widely with ease, not as a tourist, but with the sense of active engagement modeled by her grandparents.

As we concluded our interview commenting on their long and rich life together, Harold noted research that indicates that couples who live many years together live longer. I was very struck by the fact that they shared a sense of adventure and engagement in the world and have no doubt that plays a role in both their longevity and the satisfaction they have found in their lives.

"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund."

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