Chocolatespoon: Emily’s Musings

One Man’s Word

Posted on: November 10, 2003

rifkind.gif
Photo from the Simon H. Rifkind
Center for the Humanities & the Arts

I found a copy of One Man’s Word: Selected Works of Simon H. Rifkind on ebay for a couple of dollars and bought it because it contains his eulogy of my great-grandfather Aaron Rabinowitz. I just found that out when digging through the NY Times archives for mentions of my family. Here’s some excerpts from the eulogy, delivered April 5, 1973 at Temple Emanuel in NYC. Its full of info I didn’t know about AR, who died about two years before I was born.

“He died in a manner prescribed for a good man, rich in years and wisdom, surrounded by a wife he loved, by children of whom he was enormously proud and by adoring grandchildren.” [One of those grandchildren, of course, was my Mom]

“For forty years we have been as intimate as brothers, mutual confidantes, sharing many problems and triumphs as I watch him confronting crises that test men’s character. In all these years, I have not encountered a friend or foe who challenged the trust of Aaron Rabinowitz’ word. Never once has it been asserted that he had broken a promise or taken unfair advantage. In more than a decade of litigation, I never once was under the necessity of apologizing for his behavior.”

“He believed in the aristocracy of character and he lived by the aristocratic code: in battle, in fortitude; in adversity, resolution; in victory, magnanimity. Of the three, he regarded the third as the noblest.”

“No one who has known Aaron can have failed to observe the honor, love and devotion in which he held the memory of his father. For every occasion, his memory would fetch up a pertinent story of what his father had wisely said or done. He was enormously proud of his father, although his inheritance from him was of the kind on which Uncle Sam imposes no tax.”

“This filial piety was matched by his zeal in perpetuating the memory of Lillian Wald, under whose influence he had come as a young teenager and whose role, a surrogate mother, was to enrich his life and his character. How he single-handedly mounted a campaign and succeeded in causing Lillian Wald’s admission to the most exclusive club in America, the Hall of Fame, is an epic story fit to be told and untold. And, of course, no one who knew Aaron could have failed to observe his love for and pride in Clara, his wife, his affection for and delight in the accomplishments of his children, his sons-in-law and daughter-in-law. It is a measure of the man that, even when he disagreed with them, he was proud of them.”

[Apparently on May 25, 1950, Judge Rifkin returned to practice law after almost a decade serving on the Federal Court. AR was there waiting for him on the first day to reassure him that he did in fact have a client and friend.]

“In each office or place of business he entered, this busy man found time to leave a little of himself with the receptionist, the office boy and secretary, as well as the principal he had come to see. That is how, under his footsteps, every rug became a welcome mat.”

“Aaron was entitled to write quite a number of academic degrees after his name, all honorary. His education was all obtained in the university of life, which confers no degrees, in course. But where, I inquire, did he learn to write his beautiful, Chesterfieldian letters with such consummate felicity of expression, such sensitive selection of the precide word, such meticulous response ot the subtle nuances of the English language? Where did he acquire his taste and hunger for books, to possess them, to read them and to give them away in prodigious numbers? Where did he acquire his respect for and devotion to learning, so that in college classrooms, up and down the state, you will find students acquiring an education by the grace of this good man? All this was part of his secret heritage. No wonder he so faithfully kept the commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. It was that heritage which made him the architect of a great life.” [I had to look up Chesterfieldian, and according to Amazon, “the celebrated and controversial correspondences between Lord Chesterfield and his son Philip, dating from 1737, were praised in their day as a complete manual of education… Reflecting the political craft of a leading statesman and the urbane wit of a man who associated with Pope, Addison, and Swift, Lord Chesterfield’s Letters reveal the author’s political cynicism, his views on good breeding, and instruction to his son in etiquette and the worldly arts.”]

“The city has many monuments to the business judgment of Aaron Rabinowitz, but of none was he more proud than of his participation in the first low-rent cooperative housing project in the United States, the Amalgamated Housing Project of which, with Herbert Lehman, he was the pioneer.” [I found that coorespondence between AR and Herbert Lehman is catalogued in the collection from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/rare/guides/Lehman,H/index.html… The Amalgamated Housing Cooperative just celebrated its 75th Anniversary]

From
“Eulogy for Aaron Rabinowitz”
Rifkind, Simon H. One Man`s Word: Selected Works of Simon H. Rifkind. 3 vols. Edited Adam Bellow and William Keens. New York: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, 1986-1989.
Volume 2, pp. 743-746

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