My Father, The Philosopher
By Gloria Shukert Jones
My father, Harry, and his dad, Jacob, and brothers Dave, Max and Nate Shukert, and sister, Rose Sherman, owned and operated Shukert's Meats for many years. The family business was located in Omaha, Nebraska, in the heart of what was once an area of Jewish small enterprises; meat markets, bakeries, delicatessens, and a fish market. These little shops were interspersed within a predominantly African American neighborhood.
When I was a teenager, I worked there on Sunday mornings as a cashier. I can remember when our finest grade-A ground beef sold for 69 cents a pound. This was back in about 1950. After my work shift was over, I looked forward to lunch in the back room. I still remember how delicious the corned beef sandwiches on poppy-seed rolls tasted.
My dad had great rapport with all his customers. He was jovial, good-natured and a real people person. He would often throw in an extra few slices of corned beef to an order, and when children came into the store, they always got a slice of kosher baloney. Because of its demographics, the store catered to a few Black customers who were totally unaware of Kashruth. They would come in and ask for ham. My dad would ask, "Have you ever tasted kosher ham?" And he would sell them corned beef. He also explained matzas as "Easter crackers". That portion of the clientele seemed intrigued by those unfamiliar specialties.
My dad was born in Kiev, Russia in 1907, to Jacob and Minnie, his biological mother. The family emigrated to the United States when dad was just an infant. My father was the oldest of six children. When he was eleven years of age, his mother died, and he helped raise his siblings. Years later, Jacob married his second wife, Mirel, dad's stepmother, and the only bubbe I ever knew.
My dad was a veteran of the Marines, having served in Pearl Harbor in the Marine Intelligence Division prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and outbreak of World War II. After his service in the military, he helped establish the family-owned meat-cutting business.
In addition to a sense of humor, dad was a bit of a philosopher. There was a Spanish proverb he was fond of quoting: " Quien se levanta temprano tiene mas tiempo para trabajar "-- in other words, "He who gets up early has extra time for work". And this was essentially his own work ethic. He would get up at dawn, cut meat all day, and deliver orders to people's homes or businesses until late in the evening. We hardly ever saw much of him in those days.
Dad was a dedicated Jew. Although not quite as devout as my grandfather, he lived by the tenets of the Torah, and told me and my younger brother stories from Genesis. He was a devoted husband and father, and he and my mom were both long-time members of the Orthodox Beth Israel Synagogue in Omaha.
Dad displayed a temper at times, but always knew when to keep his cool. In those days it was customary for people to go for car rides without any particular destination in mind. We would often stop for ice cream, following a cruise around town. On one such evening, Dad's foot got a bit heavy on the accelerator, and a policeman stopped him and gave him a speeding ticket. I huddled in the back seat, fearful that a confrontation might erupt. Instead, dad politely thanked the officer, and even called him, "sir". My mother was astounded also, as she figured there would be an argument. But my dad had another Spanish expression he followed: " Quien mucho habla mucho yerr a.", or "He who talks too much makes many mistakes."
I learned a great deal from my dad. I learned to conquer my bug phobia when I was young. I insisted Dad check under my bed each night to make sure there were no six-legged creatures lurking there. There never was, but he would tease, pretending he had caught one and act like he was going to drop it down the back of my neck. I would run screaming, and he would laugh and remind me I was much bigger than a bug.
I learned spiritualism. He taught me the Ten Commandments, especially to honor God, and my father and mother.
I learned how to manage money. He cautioned me never to squander my allowance, and to save for things I wanted. It was essential to him that I "learn the value of a dollar", and nest eggs were ultimately more enduring than spending sprees. My allowance was generous, but I had to earn it by helping my mother with household chores. Otherwise, allowance was withheld. Then when I was old enough to have a job, he insisted I open a savings account. To this day, although a "shopaholic" at heart, I do try to talk myself out of unnecessary purchases.
My dad was a family man, a good provider and always encouraged me in my endeavors. He was also a visionary. Fifty years ago, he foresaw a particular area in town, as a potential for a major property redevelopment center, and had plans to look into that as a possible business venture. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could realize his dream. True to his prediction, that area is now the expansive site of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and is still in a developmental stage. He had similar expectations about a potential shopping mall in another area of town, which has also since materialized.
Losing my father has left a void in my life. I often wonder how different things might have been had he lived longer. As Father's Day approaches, I am filled with bittersweet memories and nostalgia. But then I remember another of his favorite philosophies, a credo by which he lived his entire life: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you -- cry, and you cry alone."
from the June 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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