I Wish for You What You Wish for Yourself by David Weiss
My four grandparents were incredible role models and teachers. Whether I learned from observing them or from listening to their advice, I knew that it all came from a unique place. I am certain that only people who had gone through the horrors that they went through could provide this kind of insight and perspective.
My Grandpa Jack had a favorite saying, “I wish for you what you wish for yourself”. It may sound like a standard kind-hearted sentiment, but it was really much more than that. And like everything in his life, Grandpa Jack learned the hard way about peoples’ wishes. This wasn’t one of the many lessons that he learned during the Holocaust but it did result from being a Survivor.
When my Grandpa Jack somehow managed to get through security (in 1946 after Liberation) and make it to Belgium, he found a tailor who agreed to hire him. Since my grandfather was in the country illegally he couldn’t go outside of the tailor shop. Even inside the shop he could have been arrested, but it was more likely to happen if he wandered outside to the town square or just walking down the street. Policemen commonly asked to see foreign-looking people’s “papers”. The owner of this small tailor shop was doing a great favor for my grandfather. He employed him and let him sleep on a wooden bench which allowed my Grandpa Jack to pay for his new wife, his wife’s sister and her husband to make their way, legally, to Belgium. After nearly a year, my Grandpa wanted to make more money. He was always an upward-thinking man. The owner of the tailor shop refused and said that a year ago he wasn’t even legal in the country. He should be happy just to be alive, to be living in Belgium and to have a job. And he (the tailor-shop owner) was the one that made that happen for my grandfather. When denied a raise, Grandpa Jack quit, bought two sewing machines and started a small business with his brother-in-law. His former boss, of course, felt that Grandpa Jack was an ingrate. An unappreciative guy who should have just shut up and been happy with his new, improved lot in life.
Fast forward to 1962 and the venerable south-side Milwaukee Tailor-shop owner Mayer Krum. Mr. Krum had very similar thoughts. Mr. Krum had signed the papers saying he needed a tailor with Grandpa’s specific skill-set. Without this document he never would have been allowed in to the United States. So when Grandpa Jack asked for a raise, Mayer Krum sung a familiar tune; be happy that I helped you get here. You owe me. Be quiet.
Well, once again Grandpa Jack moved on and said goodbye to the south side. By 1963 he wanted to start his own clothing store. Grandpa Jack met with an American Jew who owned several store fronts on Silver Spring in Whitefish Bay. The potential landlord once again sang the same old tune; Be happy to be in America and to be alive. Keep working for other people and you’ll be fine. You won’t be able to handle owning your own store in the Milwaukee area. With-in a few weeks, however, my Grandfather had started Jack’s Expert Tailoring on North Avenue in Wauwatosa. He owned and ran one of Milwaukee’s most successful men’s clothing stores until his retirement in 1993.
The tailor shop owner in Belgium, Mayer Krum and the landlord were representative of many that Grandpa came across. They were glad that Grandpa Jack was alive and they wanted him to live a good, safe life. They just didn’t want him to do TOO well. He was a Survivor, he had a deep, thick accent and he had a “place”. That “place” wasn’t making as much money as them. Or making more money than them. They wanted him to do well….but not TOO well.
These three examples aren’t the only cases. These post-war experiences led Grandpa Jack to his favorite line…”I wish for you what you wish for yourself”. When he said this to me, Grandpa was conveying the message that he didn’t want to put limits on me. Whatever I want for myself in life is what he hopes I get, even if it’s a life well beyond what he saw as being possible for me. It is a humble acknowledgement that what someone wants may be beyond what we can see from the here and now. Even as the world and the times evolve, the wish remains. His wish for me, I knew, was timeless. I know that he’s still wishing me the same thing even six years after his death. You never have to change what you wish for someone as long as you wish for them what they wish for themselves.
Grandpa Jack also loved pointing out the positive in people. He made a point of repeating the story of arriving on North Avenue to take a look at the vacant building. He showed it to Grandma Genia and she gave her usual response; do what you want, I will help you. He also showed it to his friend Walter Peltz and to Sonia Richt, the lady that helped them come to this country and was Genia’s distant relative. Walter Peltz told him that it’s a beautiful neighborhood and he knows that the venture will be a big success. Sonia Richt told him that if he has the guts to start his own store as a Jew in Wauwatosa while not yet speaking English then he’ll succeed for sure. Neither Walter nor Sonia saw any limits to what Grandpa Jack’s dreams should be. They saw no obvious reason why he shouldn’t try and they wanted the best for him. Walter didn’t mind having another successful business-owner/friend and Sonia Richt never viewed the world as having limited possibilities. She saw a large golden pot that we can all help to grow. She didn’t see a small golden pot with a finite number of golden chunks that we need to fight over. About a year after the opening of Jack’s Expert Tailoring, Mayer Krum’s son made the long trip to Wauwatosa. It meant so much to my grandfather that Mr. Krum shook his hand, smiled and told him that he’s very glad to see how successful Grandpa Jack had been with his store. Grandpa Jack never spoke badly of the tailor shop owner in Belgium or of Mayer Krum. They had their own agenda and it was important to him to remember the good more than the bad.
Greek poet Archillochus said “We don’t rise to the occasion. We sink to our training”. In other words, feelings like jealousy and comparing ourselves to others are essentially bad habits. Why might we get jealous when we think that someone has made it to TOO far or surpassed us? Because that’s how we are wired. We haven’t yet worked hard enough to change that bad habit.
Anne Frank said “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”. Likewise, how wonderful it is that we don’t need to wait a single moment before starting to improve ourselves. While it’s a little late for a New Years’ Resolution, I resolve to follow my Grandpa Jack’s advice and to have one wish for others…to always simply wish others what they wish for themselves.
David Weiss was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors has always been an integral part of his identity and life. David earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Cardinal Stritch University and a Masters of Arts in Education from Viterbo University. He spent eleven years as a second and third grade teacher before starting his own promotions business. David is also an author and teaches at the college level. David and his wife are the proud parents of a six year old daughter.
More from David Weiss HERE.