I have to laugh when I hear the current wisdom about sound business management. Executives nowadays are supposed to be friendly; they are supposed to inspire and empower employees rather than boss them. In this respect, my father was way ahead of his time. Although Dad was owner, president, and later chairman of Castle Food Corporation, our family business, he never considered his position in the company to be very significant during the almost 55 years he worked in the business. Dad didn’t enjoy rank or power. To him, everyone in the workplace was important, and the main thing was that each employee did the very best at his or her particular job.
In his quiet and humble way, Dad regarded himself as a salesman. He loved people and loved the interaction with his customers and employees. With the twinkle in his eyes, his European charm and class, his fabulous sense of humor, and his fascinating stories, he captivated those around him. He was ehrlich and unassuming, and had a sweetness about him not typical of a hard-driving, aggressive businessperson. Yet when he combined all these personal qualities with the detailed and superior knowledge of his product and a strong resolve to be successful, Dad possessed everything a good salesman needed. Dad was a fabulous sales professional who made himself and his company very successful, with Hashem’s help.
But Dad was more than a salesperson. He had something of much greater significance to sell than his warehouse of gourmet food products. A brief look at his life, the full and meaningful 87 years that he inhabited this world, will show us just how good a salesman he was and will continue to be for all those who so fondly remember him.
My father was born to Emanuel and Bluma Schlossberger in Fuerth, a small town in Germany close to Nuremberg, on February 15, 1915. A few years later, his sister, my beloved Aunt Ruth, was born. (Dad shortened the name to Schlossberg, when he came to America.)
Fuerth had a strong Jewish community. Rabbi Moshe Heinemann was also born there. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Heinemann’s father, Mr. Benno Heinemann, was my father’s teacher in Fuerth. Over 30 years later, his son Rabbi Moshe Heineman was my rebbe when I was a talmid at Ner Israel.
Dad was only nine years old when he urged his parents to daven in a different shul, one of a more religious nature. Without hesitation, his parents moved over to the more observant shul. As he grew up, Dad was comfortable with his frumkeit but was always looking for ways to reach higher goals and get closer to Hashem. His Yiddishkeit was a very steady ladder that he climbed, rung by rung, always moving higher in his avodas Hashem.
Dad loved athletics and was a good skier and soccer player. Even in his late seventies, he could be seen every Sunday morning after shul at the JCC playing volleyball. Routine and discipline were very much part of Dad’s life. As a Yekke, his time was valuable and a precise schedule was always a priority.
The New World
In 1933, when Dad was 18, Hitler was already in power. Unable to go to yeshiva or college, Dad entered the family business and traveled around Germany selling. These were dangerous times, however, and after two incidents while traveling, he left for Palestine in 1935 on his mother’s advice; he was only 20 years old. In Tel Aviv, Dad made a living as a salesman and roomed with a young man named Noah Rosenbloom, who later became a rabbi and married my parents in Philadelphia in 1946.
Once, my father paid for a taxi to go from Tel Aviv to Haifa, and since he was the first customer, he took the front seat. An elderly gentleman came along and demanded that he be given that preferred front seat. My Dad, as the mentsch he always was, immediately gave up his seat to the older person. The taxi traveled with a military convoy and came under fire by Arab terrorists. The fellow in the front seat was shot.
In 1938, Dad’s mother visited him in Tel Aviv. Surveying the business climate in Palestine, she didn’t like what she saw and advised him to go to Baltimore, where they had relatives. She then returned to Germany. In 1939, she and her husband were sent to a concentration camp in France. After they were released from this work camp – fortunately, it was before the days of the death camps – my grandmother wired my father asking if he could post $3,000 so they could immigrate to America.
Dad was earning nine dollars a week as a tie salesman for Miller Tie Company of Baltimore. It was an impossible situation, and my Dad was beside himself. On a cold Shabbos day, right after shul, Mrs. Selma Ney observed my Dad pacing outside her window on Whitelock Street. Mrs. Ney was the mother of Dad’s wonderful friend, Herbert Cohn, brother of Aber Cohn and half-brother of Bert Ney. (She had been married to Mr. Cohn, and after his passing married Dr. Ney.) Mrs. Ney opened the window and called out to Dad, inquiring about the welfare of his parents. In a dejected tone, he explained their predicament. Mrs. Ney told him to come see her right after Shabbos. Indeed, he did, and Mrs. Ney went straight to the cookie jar and handed him $3,000. This would be the equivalent of $100,000 today. Her only request was not to let her husband know of her chesed.
Years later, when this story was told to Rabbi Schwab, he mentioned that, any time he or the shul needed funds, they could always count on Mrs. Ney. Who knows how many times she went to that cookie jar to perform such acts of chesed?
Dad, as ehrlich as he always was, expressed the fear that it would be very difficult to repay her. Mrs. Ney insisted that he take the needed money, and again, with Hashem’s rachamim and help, my grandparents were able to leave Germany to start a new life in Baltimore, Maryland, and Dad repaid the money three years later.
Work and good wages were very difficult to find. Dad heard about a connection, a relative of a relative who had an office in the Empire State Building. Hoping for a chance at a better job, Dad set out to interview for a position with this very successful businessman. After a wonderful interview and the promise of a good position, the man wanted to make one point perfectly clear: “Young man, this is America, and here we work Saturdays.” My Dad quickly answered that that would be impossible – at which the extremely irate businessman yelled at my Dad, “Throw your tefilin out the window.”
That was enough for Dad; he got up and left the Empire State Building and New York. He went back to Baltimore, clinging even closer to Shabbos and his tefilin. He was resolved to practice his Yiddishkeit with renewed vigor. Shabbos was very special to him; he realized what a gift Hakadosh Baruch Hu had given him. He spent his entire life protecting, observing, cherishing, and practicing the laws and traditions of Shabbos. Dad was a “Shabbos Yid,” whose entire week was fashioned around Shabbos, and his company was an extension of his frumkeit: ehrlich and strictly shomer Shabbos. Like his personal life, it was a kiddush Hashem for all to see.
It was at this point that Fred’s mother Bluma, my Nana, who had started producing homemade chocolates out of her kitchen, asked my Dad to join her and help her sell her chocolates. She also convinced him to travel to New York to purchase additional candy.
So off to New York he went, leaving his nine-dollars-a-week position at Miller Tie Company. Dad soon found that purchasing candy (or anything) during the war was extremely difficult. Everywhere he went, people wanted to know if he had purchased goods before the war. With food quotas in place, no one would sell to a new business – let alone a German immigrant. But with persistence and not taking no for an answer, Dad succeeded in establishing contact with an Italian candy maker. By chance, the Italian businessman came out to the reception area where he witnessed the secretary giving Dad a very hard time. Feeling sorry for him, the businessman invited Dad into his office and was impressed with his personality and fervor. Baruch Hashem, he agreed to sell Dad a small quantity of candied Jordan almonds. Castle Foods was in business.
Tales from the Trenches
Once, many years ago, Dad was in the hospital on erev Yom Kippur. He was only concerned with the taanis, while the cardiologist was more concerned about his heart. Dad checked with Rabbi Feldman, his Rav, who instructed him that he must listen to his doctor and not fast, because of piku’ach nefesh. Dad worked it out, though, and after convincing the doctor and Rabbi Feldman that intravenous would suffice for nourishment, he finally got the okay to fast that Yom Kippur.
As a youngster, it was accompanying Dad on his business trips that probably had the greatest impact on me. This kind of chinuch was different from learning a mishna from my Dad but just as rewarding and always a lesson for life. Dad’s Torah was his actions and the way he led his life. For instance, Dad always had a makom kevua, a specific place to daven Mincha if he couldn’t get to a shul. Today, whenever I pass that spot on New York Avenue on the way out of Washington D.C., I can visualize my father and I davening there. To me, it will always be a makom kodesh, a holy place.
Dad would always get to a shul, if possible, and he was given the key to the Georgetown shul, where he often davened when in Washington. He also used the sukka there and was well known in that shul. Dad had many accounts in Georgetown and usually ate lunch in the spring, summer, and fall in a local park. He picked a particular bench right in front of the tennis courts, so he could watch the tennis players during lunch. But more importantly, there was a water fountain next to the bench, so he could wash before saying Hamotzi on bread.
I will never forget the summer day he took me with him to his business calls in Georgetown. I loved watching Dad interact with the customers, making the sale, and writing those hefty orders. At 12:00 o’clock sharp, we were off to the park for lunch. We unpacked the lunch, spread the sandwiches and drinks on the bench, and proceeded to the water fountain with a paper cup to wash. To our dismay, there was no water in the fountain that day.
Proud of my ability to tell my Dad about a new heter I had learned in school, I explained that if you had no water at hand, you could hold the bread in a napkin and by not touching the bread avoid washing. Dad gave me a funny but stern look, promptly packed up lunch, and went back to the car. We drove to a nearby hotel, where we washed, and then we returned to the park. Dad did not believe in shortcuts. If you were supposed to wash, then you washed. When we discussed shiurim – whether you had to wash on one slice of pizza or maybe only on two – Dad would give me that same funny look, and he would always say, “If you eat because you are hungry, then consider it a meal, and if so, you must wash.”
Kashrus on the road was often difficult. Dad traveled to Harrisburg, Norfolk, Richmond, Newport News, and Charlottsville, and sometimes even as far as the Carolinas. When passing through their towns in Virginia, Dad frequented families like the Lawrences and Franks for a hot kosher dinner. In Norfolk, he would eat at Rabbi Joe and Frances Schechter’s home. It was probably through his strict adherence to kashrus that he was zocheh to find his bashert, his aishes chayil of over 55 years, my Mom.
The Shidduch and a Bayis Ne’eman
Dad had accounts in Atlantic City, and when he traveled there, he made it a point to visit Vineland, New Jersey, where a kehila of refugees had bought poultry farms to live off the land. My maternal grandfather, Willi Goldschmidt, had such a farm.
On one trip, my father stopped at the Mayerfeld farm, probably for a bite to eat. Mr. Max Mayerfeld came to his farm door to greet his young, 31-year-old guest. “Freddie, are you still frum?” he asked. Dad assured him nothing had changed! “Well Freddie, are you still single?” Again Dad told him nothing had changed. After a quick lunch prepared by Mrs. Mayerfeld, Max took Freddie to the Goldschmidt farm. Hearing the knocking at the door, Willi Goldschmidt and his wife came out to greet the guests. He inquired, “So who is the fine young man?” to which Max Mayerfeld answered, “Willi, meet your future son-in law!”
They showed Dad a picture of Greta Goldschmidt, who was a kindergarten teacher at Breuer’s in Washington Heights. They met, and three dates later they were engaged to be married. In 1947, with 56 people in attendance, they were married in Philadelphia by my Dad’s Eretz Yisrael roommate, Rabbi Noah Rosenbloom. The caterer charged $3.50 a plate, but my grandfather supplied the chickens, and Mom picked the flowers that same morning back on the farm. The band was just a few pieces, but the beautiful music went on for the rest of their lives.
Dad was an accomplished pianist and wonderful harmonica player, and Mom was a pianist and guitarist who also played the lute. Both had beautiful singing voices, and they made beautiful music together. They loved opera and classical music as well as Jewish and Israeli music. We were Levi’im, and music was an important component of our chinuch.
I lived at home for over 20 years, and never did I see my parents disagree or argue about anything – never an unpleasant word or raised voice, only commitment, love, and a relationship of two people totally devoted to each other and to their family. Their wedding was bekavod and not ostentatious, just as their life together would be bekavod and even royal, yet simple, humble, and understated.
Soon after the chasana they were off to Leibowitz’s Pineview Hotel for sheva brachos and a honeymoon of sorts. As soon as they arrived, my romantic Dad was on the volleyball court, where he was promptly knocked out by colliding with another player. My Mom took care of him then and from that day on: a care so incredible that it was a lesson to us all on how to treat one’s spouse.
During the early years of the business, Dad often returned home late each night from a hard day on the road. There was always a hot meal, a loving smile, and a beautiful, neat home awaiting him. Shabbos and Yom Tov were special: the table full of harmony, beautiful zemiros, and guests. The home was filled with many beautiful minhagim as well, which my parents so loved and cherished. Shavuos found flowers all over the house, and my parents always took pride in decorating their shul, their extended home Shearith Israel, with flowers, too.
Meshulachim were always greeted warmly at the door, and as busy as my parents were at the business, they were constantly helping at the shul or Bais Yaakov or entertaining musically at a nursing home. They always found the time to work for the community, together. Such was the home my Dad built together with my Mom, a home of chesed and tzedaka but always quiet, unassuming, and without publicity or fanfare. That was how Dad always wanted it, and that’s the way Mom always made it.
What Dad Liked
Dad had little desire for material things. We used to joke with him that ties cost more than the three dollars he liked to spend. A car, to him, was merely a means to get around, and he always said that being too fancy would cause the customer to think you were making too big a profit. Dad was apolitical and disliked politics, although he always voted.
What Dad did like was a close relationship to his Rav. Rabbi Schwab, Rabbi Feldman, and later, Rabbi Hopfer were his rabbanim, and with an emuna peshuta he embraced their every teaching. Dad was a “tehilim Jew”; each day he completed one book of Tehilim, completing the entire Sefer Tehilim each week.
Dad was a great and loving father, and while he let Mom do the day-to-day chinuch, he took us to shul regularly. To Dad, his shul was everything. He loved shul and loved those who went to minyanim and shiurim. Many remember how my Mom took him by car to Mincha once he had stopped driving and how she would wait patiently for him each day after davening. They served Hashem as a team.
Dad was a regular at the shiurim of Rabbi Hopfer and also attended Rabbi Heinemann’s shiur weekly. He davened Friday night and Shabbos Mincha at the Agudah, where people took pride in helping him cross Park Heights to his apartment. When my parents got a bit older, they took a special Shabbos apartment on Park Heights Avenue. While the apartment was only two blocks closer to the shul than their home, they loved it – not only because the walk was shorter but because it was special for Shabbos. It also gave them the opportunity to invite Russian friends for Shabbos. In the later years, they invited Russians for the Pesach seder, too. It was quite an international seder, with the German nusach and tunes, Haggadahs translated into Russian for the guests, and Yiddish in the German dialect as the common language around the table.
My parents had tremendous hakaras hatov to Hashem and to America and were very patriotic. I remember the tears in my mother’s eyes when she sang “G-d Bless America.” Yet both my parents had a special place in their hearts for Eretz Yisrael, and they instilled a strong love for Eretz Yisrael in my sister and me. My sister was born in 1948, and my parents named her Aviva from the Hebrew word aviv, springtime, the season when Israel became a state. I guess you could say we were ardent frum Zionists.
It was my parents’ love for Eretz Yisrael, I am sure, that helped my sister Aviva and her husband Uri Sondhelm to make aliyah with their family after living in Baltimore for many years. Prior to the move, my parents had been able to enjoy the entire mishpacha being together in Baltimore. This enabled their son-in-law Uri and daughter-in-law, my wife Ronnie, and all the grandchildren to be close to Opa and Omi. They all had the zechus to learn so much from them.
Time Out for Kids
Busy as he was, Dad always made special time for his kids: an occasional sports outing, sleigh riding, family trip, or vacation. We would go to Atlantic City as a family or to the mountains or to Bethlehem, New Hampshire. I loved business trips with Dad, and it was on those occasions that I learned the kavod habriyos he had for all people. He was a wonderful father, and he got tremendous simcha and nachas from his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Today, baruch Hashem, great-grandchildren carry his name, Avraham. There is Avraham Goldstein, son of Rabbi Yossie and Devorah (Sondhelm) Goldstein of Beit Shemesh, Israel; and Avraham “Avi” Schlossberg, son of Mark and Shavy Schlossberg of Lawrence, New York. Another great-grandson, Avraham Shalom, was born in 2005 to Dr. and Mrs. Menachem Walfish, in Kew Garden Hills, New York.
When I think of Dad, I think of his sweet smile and the twinkle in his eyes. I see a true eved Hashem, a sincere, ehrliche mentsch with a great sense of humor and a lively, fascinating personality. Dad was a professional salesman, an honest businessman, a talented musician, and a friendly, kind, considerate, and charitable person. Dad had a great deal to sell, and he sold it to everyone with whom he came into contact. In actuality, what he had to sell was free for the taking. His commission was making people happy. He made people feel good, and they enjoyed being around him. For all of us, he was an example of what it means to be an eved Hashem. Dad taught us just by living his life. Yiddishkeit has lost a great salesman who was a true kiddush Hashem to all.
This article is part of the author’s soon-to-be-released memoir, My Shtetl Baltimore