Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Memories of Schooling and Buying

 Enough already!

Not everything I write has to be about Morocco. 

Two recent articles, one in the The New York Times, the other in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, kindled memories. 

Last Friday’s Times reported on a New York State legislative attempt to curtail corporal punishment in private schools, especially Hasidic Jewish religious schools where it was alleged students are regularly subjected to being “hit, slapped or kicked by their instructors” (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/02/nyregion/hasidic-schools-ny-lawmakers-corporal-punishment.html?smid=em-share).

Now, I attended a private Hebrew school, Yeshiva Rambam, in Brooklyn, in the mid/late 1950s-early 1960s. To be clear, my school was not run by ultra Orthodox Hasidim. It was what we would now call Modern Orthodox. 

Nevertheless, some aspects of alleged current disciplinary tactics played out in my school. My second grade Hebrew teacher, Mrs. Mare, or more appropriately, Mrs. Nightmare, had a unique way of dealing with recalcitrant children. She would tightly pinch your nostrils for 10 seconds or longer. If you were really deserving of re-education, she would stand behind you, grab hold of your arms just above your elbows, pull them back towards her while sticking her knee into your back.

Of course her students complained to their parents. But as they were mostly immigrant or first generation parents, they sided with her, believing if we were disciplined we surely must have done something egregious to warrant corporal punishment.

Our third grade English teacher, Mrs. Schlesinger, educated us into the tribulations of solitary confinement. Her version of the modern day “time out” in the corner was to isolate an offender in a dark wardrobe closet in our classroom. Usually your term of sentence was 10 to 20 minutes standing in the dark, but one spring day Mrs. Schlesinger lost track of one of her inmates and left him inside his cell when dismissal came. So did the rest of the class. His parents were not amused when he failed to show up at home when the school bus made its normal stop at their door. Mrs. Schlesinger reluctantly agreed to more benign punishments after that incident.

Our seventh grade Hebrew teacher, Mr. Kulik, was real old school. That means he saw nothing untoward in some physical contact with students. He took a particular interest in Walter, a chubby, not overly ambitious or attentive student. His patience finally exhausted one day, Mr. Kulik decided to eject Walter from the classroom. Physically eject him. He literally decided to throw Walter out the door. Trouble was, the door was closed. Walter, being round and pudgy, bounced off the door right back into Mr. Kulik’s arms. Only after two or three repeat tossings and rebounds did Mr. Kulik finally realize it was not Walter being insubordinate that kept him coming back time and again. I should note that throughout this ordeal Walter was laughing.

Fingering the Goods: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, via New York Jewish Week, reported last week on the installation of a mezuzah at the entrance of an American Eagle Outfitters store in New York’s Times Square. When Gilda told me of the article’s headline, “Why American Eagle now has a mezuzah at its Times Square flagship,” I immediately advised is was because AEO was owned by the Schottenstein family of Columbus, Ohio (https://www.jta.org/2023/03/01/ny/why-american-eagle-now-has-a-mezuzah-at-its-times-square-flagship).

Back in the early 1990s I made an advertising sales call on First Data Corp. in Columbus, Ohio. I was meeting with three marketing executives who abruptly, but nicely, advised they had to end our discussion because they had to rush out to their local Schottenstein’s store as they had just been informed a new shipment of dresses had arrived.

You see, Schottenstein’s was an off-price retailer of all types of general merchandise, scooping up excess inventory from manufacturers or beleaguered retailers. 

These women knew their bargains. They understood that the values Schottenstein procured would not sit around too long in the store. It was necessary to act, quickly. 

Having never been in a Schottenstein’s till then, I felt it was incumbent on me as the editor of Chain Store Age to visit the store to round out my first hand knowledge of the retailer which at that point had not ventured into the New York metropolitan market with its Value City chain. 

Value City and Schottenstein’s were identical stores in everything but name. The Schottenstein family, residents of Columbus, were Orthodox Jews. They knew they could not sustain a profitable retail enterprise if their stores were closed on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. They also knew it would sustain a black eye if fellow congregants saw Schottenstein stores open on Saturdays. So they devised a workaround

In Columbus, they kept the family name on three stores  that were closed on Saturdays. But elsewhere, they named their stores Value City, open seven days a week. 

In that pre-GPS era, I wandered around before finally finding a Schottenstein store. Sure enough, the ladies were right. I wound up buying two suits, a summer weight poplin ($40) and a three season Hardy Ames wool suit ($80).


My father rarely complimented me on any of my purchases. He bought his suits and sports coats wholesale. Though I did the next best thing by buying off-price, he never acknowledged my shopping acumen. 

As I was driving him one day he asked about my recent business trips. We talked about the Schottenstein family of which he was familiar because of their buying power in the apparel field. He was, after all, an apparel manufacturer.

I told him about my purchases at Schottenstein’s and that I was wearing the wool suit. He instinctively reached out to touch the end of my suit sleeve. Rubbing his fingers together he said, “Ah, the Schottensteins sell good suits.” 

I accepted the compliment without further comment. 

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