Search the Special Collections and Archives Portal

Transcript of interview with Harry Sax by Barbara Tabach, April 8, 2015

Document

Information

Date
2015-04-08
Description

Interview with Harry Sax by Barbara Tabach on April 8, 2015. In this interview, Sax discusses his family history and upbringing in Chicago, and his military service in Munich. He returned to Chicago and became business partners with Michael Schulson, with whom he opened several Arby's outposts, and expanded to Las Vegas in 1968. He talks about life in Las Vegas in the 1970s and the competition in the fast food industry. He then talks about the reform congregation in Chicago and his connection to Judaism throughout his life. He describes himself as a "closet Jew" before becoming president at Congregation Ner Tamid in 2007. Sax discusses the programs at Ner Tamid for all ages, and his continued involvement in the community.

In 1939, Harry Sax was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son to first generation American Jews. He spent his childhood on Chicago's South, where his family belonged to a progressive Reform congregation. After graduating from Hyde Park High School, he continued his education at Indiana University. In college, Harry was a member of the ZBT Jewish fraternity, participated in a singing group, and was a cadet in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Upon graduating from college, Harry was stationed in Munich, Germany as a second lieutenant in the Quartermasters Corps. In addition to his required military duties, he also participated in an after-hours acting group; through this group, he was hired as an extra and for small roles, including The Great Escape. When he finished his service, Harry returned to Chicago, where he connected with a high school friend, Mike Schulson. The two became partners and purchased Arby's franchises in Chicago and Las Vegas. Thus, in 1968, while his partner remained in Chicago, Harry moved to Las Vegas and opened two franchise locations in two weeks. Though it took a few years to stabilize the business and overcome competition, he opened a third location in 1972 on South Decatur, what was then the western edge of the city. Today, Harry has nineteen locations in Las Vegas, with additional franchises in Reno and Barstow, California, and employs nearly 300 people. After about twenty years as a "closet Jew" in the city, Harry reconnected with Judaism and joined Congregation Ner Tamid in the late 1990s. He served on its board, eventually becoming vice president and then president (2007-09). He also dedicated himself to have a bar mitzvah, following up on his Jewish education and confirmation as a teenager. Harry has also served on the Anti-Defamation League's board as well as an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Digital ID
jhp000181
Details
Citation

Harry Sax oral history interview, 2015 April 08. OH-02286. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1sq8tk57

Rights
This material is made available to facilitate private study, scholarship, or research. It may be protected by copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity rights, or other interests not owned by UNLV. Users are responsible for determining whether permissions are necessary from rights owners for any intended use and for obtaining all required permissions. Acknowledgement of the UNLV University Libraries is requested. For more information, please see the UNLV Special Collections policies on reproduction and use (https://www.library.unlv.edu/speccol/research_and_services/reproductions) or contact us at special.collections@unlv.edu
Standardized Rights Statement
Language

English

Format
application/pdf

AN INTERVIEW WITH HARRY SAX An Oral History Conducted by Barbara Tabach The Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries ?Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White Editors and Project Assistants: Maggie Lopes, Stefani Evans ii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iii PREFACE In 1939, Harry Sax was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son to first generation American Jews. He spent his childhood on Chicago's South, where his family belonged to a progressive Reform congregation. After graduating from Hyde Park High School, he continued his education at Indiana University. In college, Harry was a member of the ZBT Jewish fraternity, participated in a singing group, and was a cadet in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Upon graduating from college, Harry was stationed in Munich, Germany as a second lieutenant in the Quartermasters Corps. In addition to his required military duties, he also participated in an after-hours acting group; through this group, he was hired as an extra and for small roles, including The Great Escape. When he finished his service, Harry returned to Chicago, where he connected with a high school friend, Mike Schulson. The two became partners and purchased Arby's franchises in Chicago and Las Vegas. Thus, in 1968, while his partner remained in Chicago, Harry moved to Las Vegas and opened two franchise locations in two weeks. Though it took a few years to stabilize the business and overcome competition, he opened a third location in 1972 on South Decatur, what was then the western edge of the city. Today, Harry has nineteen locations in Las Vegas, with additional franchises in Reno and Barstow, California, and employs nearly 300 people. After about twenty years as a "closet Jew" in the city, Harry reconnected with Judaism and joined Congregation Ner Tamid in the late 1990s. He served on its board, eventually becoming vice president and then president (2007-09). He also dedicated himself to have a bar mitzvah, following up on his Jewish education and confirmation as a teenager. Harry has also served on the Anti-Defamation League's board as well as an active member of the Chamber of Commerce. iv TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Harry Sax on April 8, 2015 by Barbara Tabach in Las Vegas, Nevada Preface iv Discusses family background; paternal and maternal sides converging in Chicago how parents met; at university childhood on South Side of Chicago. Talks about time in military in Germany after college; acting hobby getting him roles in movies; chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Returns from service; purchases Arby franchises and moves to Las Vegas. Describes market research before opening doors; why Las Vegas was a strong retail market 1-5 Recalls what city was like in 1960s; cheap buffets, tipping maitre d's for good seating at shows. Describes first apartment in city. More about first two franchise locations; competitors; taking time to turn profit; eventually opening third location; initial marketing strategy. Mentions evolution of Arby's menu 6-10 Talks about role of Judaism during childhood; belonging to progressive Reform congregation; unique confirmation classes. Recalls reconnecting to his faith as an adult; joining Congregation Ner Tamid; serving as vice president, then president; becoming bar mitzvahed as adult. Describes leadership philosophy, regardless of organization; focusing on employee empowerment to serve customers/congregants 11-15 More about Arby's business; work to get up and running; franchises organizational structure; current employee numbers. More about serving on Ner Tamid's board, Marla Letizia's leadership; developing new programming; changes in membership numbers before and after recession. Praises current congregation president Jacky Rosen's job performance. Discusses managing personnel changes while president 16-21 Recalls Ralph Engelstad Hitler birthday party. Mentions work with Anti-Defamation League; reasons for ending board involvement; charitable endeavors through Arby's business; work with Chamber of Commerce 22-24 Index 25-26 v This is Barbara Tabach. Today is April 8, 2015. I'm sitting in my UNLV office in the library with Harry Sax. Harry, spell your name for us. H-A-R-R-Y, S-A-X. Tell me about your ancestral story. I'll tell you what I know. On my father's side was from the Ukraine. I think their name may have been Zax and when they went through immigration, they mispronounced it and it became Sax. So Zax would have been... ? Z-A-X, I think. This is what I hear. On my father's side my grandfather immigrated. He had a relative somewhere in Minnesota, I think around Ely. I don't know how he got down to the Chicago area, but he ended up in East Chicago, Indiana, which is on the Illinois-Indiana border near Lake Michigan. [My father] met my mother at University of Illinois in Champaign on a blind date. Actually, the first blind date they couldn't stand each other, but my mother needed a date for a social event and they fixed her up with my father again and it took. They eloped, actually. My mother was from a fairly well-to-do family; her father was a surgeon, and my father's family was from more humble means. So they eloped. They decided to set up residence in Chicago on the South Side. My father went into the high fashion women's shoe business in Gary and Hammond, Indiana. My mother's background is Sephardic Jews who were from Toledo, Spain, and with the Inquisition, went to Portugal; then after being chased out of there went to Amsterdam. Then my grandfather, my mother's father was born in London where he went to medical school, became a surgeon, and came over to the United States. My mother, of course, was raised in Chicago; that's 1 where my grandfather immigrated. My own background to continue the thread...I was raised on the South Side of Chicago. I went to Bret Harte Grammar School. I went to Hyde Park High School. Probably the most famous thing about Hyde Park High School is some of its graduates; Steve Allen and Mel Torme are graduates of Hyde Park High School. I don't know that she graduated, but Amelia Earhart went to Hyde Park High School. I was in a cappella choir and sang next to a guy who was great on the piano, and his name is Herbie Hancock. Really? All of these people went to Hyde Park High School on the South Side of Chicago. I then went to Indiana University. I was in a singing group there called the Singing Hoosiers of Indiana. In 1960, I went on a USO tour for sixty days in Europe and we sang mostly at army bases. When I graduated?I was in ROTC in college?I took a commission as a second lieutenant, and I got stationed in Munich, Germany, where I was in the Quartermaster Corps. But I also, in college and in the military as a social after-hours activity, got into an acting group. They were filming a couple of movies overseas and sometimes when they needed extras or actors that would just speak two or three lines, they'd go to the local military base and if there was a theater group, they'd ask them to be in those movies. So I was actually in two movies over there. I was in a movie called The Great Escape with Steve McQueen and Charlie Bronson. I remember that movie. That was filmed...the prison was erected outside of the Munich. The film studio was called Grunwald Studios. I was just a background character in that movie. In 1964, they filmed a movie over there called Situation Hopeless...But Not Serious, and it starred Mike Connors, Robert Redford and Alec Guinness; I was in that movie. I think I spoke 2 about twenty words in that movie. The movie is about two GIs who parachute over Germany, and Alec Guinness kind of keeps them in protective custody, locked up in a cell in the basement, and gives them these phony reports about the war, which has been over for years but he still keeps them locked up. I'm in a short scene with Alec Guinness where I'm an MP on the back of a truck. It pulls in and I ask Alec Guinness if he's seen a guy running around with a brown coat and no hat, and he says a few things back to me, and I said about ten words to him. That was my claim to fame. That's a pretty illustrious actor to have lines with. Yes. Unfortunately, one of us made it big, I think this guy named Redford. I would have worked much cheaper. But that was my theater experience in Munich. The other memorable thing, of course, which I think I may have shared with you, is that while I was in Munich I had a group of friends who would meet down in the student area of [the city] every Saturday because, as you know, in Europe cafes are very, very important and part of the social landscape. One Saturday morning I met my group of friends. This one friend of mine Robbie?Colonel Robinson when we were on duty, but Robbie when we were off duty?Robbie was a black officer and he was sitting together with a couple of other black gentlemen that I didn't recognize and he said, "Harry, I'd like you to meet a new friend of mine. This is Dr. King and his sidekick Dr. Ralph Abernathy." This was 1964 and, of course, that was Martin Luther King Jr. He was on his way to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and he had stopped in Munich. They had asked my friend Robbie, because he was such a well-known officer who was black, to escort Dr. King around Munich before he went on to Stockholm. I didn't recognize him at that time because in those days we didn't have the Internet or TV. We had Stars and Stripes newspaper. But as I'm walking away with a friend, I did kind of recollect who this gentleman was 3 and I said, "Wasn't that Dr. King; that civil rights gentleman?" So you had some awareness of him. Yes, I had some awareness. I remember he had a bowl of soup and he said?and he had a very deep voice?"That's good soup." We just had a short conversation, and then I and another friend of mine went on. So those were some of my experiences in Europe. Then I came back to Chicago, and I met up with a fellow I went to Hyde Park High School with who had bought a franchise for Arby's fast food restaurants. He and I talked and we became partners; I became the operational partner and he handled the administrative work for the Las Vegas market. I moved out here in 1968 and opened our first restaurant, [at] 1625 East Charleston. Before we go too fast here, I want to know a little bit about Arby's franchise. Sure. When was it started? Arby's was started in 1964 by two nice Jewish boys named Leroy and Forrest Raffel in Boardman, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown. They decided, after looking at the fast food landscape in the '60s, that they wanted to open up a fast food place that sold something other than hamburgers, and so they decided that roast beef would be a higher quality item to sell. So they started the business. My partner bought a franchise for the South Side of Chicago. What was his name? Mike Schulson. He's still my partner today. Still lives in Chicago. He and I subsequently formed a partnership for Nevada. I moved out here to be the operating partner of our franchise in 1968 and it's been my day job ever since. Had you come to Las Vegas prior to that? 4 Never been here. I came out here with my partner to look and see if this was an area where we wanted to open up Arby's. My degree in school was marketing and I did market research in those days. We didn't have computers, so it was very hard to collect data; it was all done manually. But I came up with something that I thought was a very curious aberration. Las Vegas in 1968 had about a hundred and fifty thousand people and so did Salt Lake City; but Las Vegas seemed to have about twice as many retail establishments, especially grocery stores, as Salt Lake City. I thought that was a mistake. But when I researched it I found out that that was valid info. The only thing that I can think of was that in 1968 there were a ton of people, as there are today, who make their living in the gaming industry and a lot of them had income that maybe they weren't reporting to the IRS. You think? Or putting it in a bank. So as a result, you had a huge amount of disposable income that didn't show up in anybody's numbers except for retail sales because when you have a huge amount of disposable income, you spend more. So I thought, well, here is a town that has this very wonderful aberration, this tremendous amount of disposable income. The weather was good. We had all the entertainment. No state income tax. So all of those things convinced me and my partner that this was a great place to open up an Arby's and to develop several stores here. So as a marketing picture, it looked really good? Yes. what did you think about it? The weather is always appealing, but gaming, tourism, all of that...what did you think about living in Las vegas at that time? Sure. In the '60s, even as today, the West and the Southwest were the growing parts of country. So the population was migrating from the East Coast and northern cities to the West and the 5 Southwest. Those were the growth areas. Gaming and leisure industries were expanding rapidly. So I thought it was wonderful, plus that Vegas was an entertainment capital even in the '60s. The ownership, of course, of the gaming industry has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. As a businessman looking back at the '60s, what do you remember? What do you recall historically? I recall there were a lot fewer hotels. Most of the buffets were either free or unbelievably cheap. When you went to the shows, you didn't buy tickets for any show. You would go into the show and your seat depended on how much you tipped the maitre d' who was in charge of the showroom. So that kind of ties into that disposable income. You had maitre d's here making huge amounts of money in the '60s and probably not reporting a lot of it because you could walk into an empty showroom, but if you didn't tip the maitre d' properly, you were going to be seated in the back. Also, most of the major shows in Vegas served dinner, which was a real challenge for the wait staff to get food and cocktails and everything out prior to the curtain going up. But prices were definitely a lot lower then and they gave away a lot more. They did a lot more comping and offering of freebies to people to come out here. I'm sure the junket business is still alive and well in Vegas today; I'm guessing, and I don't know this for a fact, that it was much bigger then. Yes, I think that's probably a good guess. Right. So where did you decide to live and how did you choose a place to live? My first apartment was on Rexford Drive, which is probably in the shadow of the Stratosphere Hotel. If you went down St. Louis and took the first or second street to the left that was Rexford Drive. It was a very modest apartment building. When I moved in there, there were a bunch of casino hosts that lived there and people that worked in the pit on the gaming floor. When I asked 6 them to teach me how to play craps, they said, "You don't want to know." They'd say, "Harry, you see those tall hotels, they're not building them with the money they're giving you; they're building them with the money they're taking from you." To this day I haven't a clue how to play craps after being here almost fifty years. And that's how one can continue to live here easily, for sure. Exactly right. That's good advice. And you didn't have a family that you were moving here with? I had no relatives west of Chicago in that day. I was just excited about the opportunity of going west and the weather and all the things I talked about before: the entertainment, a new business, all those things. So the 1625 East Charleston was the address of the first Arby's store. Right. What's the cross street there? The closest cross street would be Maryland Parkway and that would be about a mile west. What was the neighborhood like and how did you choose that neighborhood? It's interesting. I think in those days the parent company was choosing the locations. Today the franchisees tend to choose the locations and get approval from the parent company. So they chose it. And frankly, I don't know a lot about what went into their research in those days other than they chose that location and my second location, which opened a week later, which is on Lake Mead and Bruce. Those stores opened about a week apart in 1968; I think one was October 21 and the other was October 28. So you were personally quite busy opening two locations. I brought a couple of fellows out with me from Chicago to help me run these stores. I was 7 working eighty, a hundred hours a week in this business. And in the first two or three years business was very, very slow. We were not doing well. Oh, really? Why not? I think maybe some of it was competition. Kentucky Fried Chicken put their toe in the water into the roast beef business and opened up a concept called Kentucky Beef and it was across from the old Bishop Gorman High School here in Las Vegas. They opened up in March of 1968 and I think they did seventy or eighty thousand dollars the first month selling sandwiches at sixty-nine cents a sandwich. I opened up about six or seven months later and I was doing about six thousand dollars a month. So we went through a couple of years where we came close to closing our doors with our first couple of locations. I don't know if it was a combination of my competition closing and us having more perseverance, but things started to turn around and business started going up. It got to the point where I was actually looking for a third location. Now, I opened these first two stores in '68, so I looked for my third location in 1972; that's how long it took me to recover from the negative into the real positive territory as far as sales and profits. I saw this location and my heart sank because it was going to be open by another competitor called Roy Rogers Roast Beef, who was actually at that point, I think, owned by Marriott out of Washington, D.C. I kept driving by this location and they never put the equipment in. So I contacted my real estate broker, Alvin Levy, who was a county commissioner here. His son is a past president, actually, of the same temple that I'm a past president of, Congregation Ner Tamid. Alvin contacted the landlord who owned that whole section of town, Ernie Becker, Becker Homes. My partner and I met with Ernie Becker, and he said, "I've got Roy Rogers on the lease and they've got more money than I've got and I'd be happy to lease it to you because I'm in good 8 shape." So he leased it to us. It was the first restaurant we opened up that just made money hand over fist, and we were off and running. In the ensuing years, we just kept opening up restaurant after restaurant and everyone was a home run. So the third location was...? Three fifteen South Decatur. At that time was South Decatur like the edge of the city? Decatur was the western edge of the city just about, but it was a growing area. So we opened up there in 1972. And today how many locations do you have? We've got nineteen here in Las Vegas, one in Reno and one in Barstow, California. I think that's interesting. You've mentioned two roast beef places. I don't even remember Kentucky Fried Chicken being in that business. Were they located in the Midwest, too? I think Vegas was a test market for it and I don't think they ever got out of Vegas because I don't think it worked out for them. So that was 1968 and that was one competitor. There was another competitor called Sam's Roast Beef that was out of Sacramento. Then I mentioned Roy Rogers Roast Beef, which is actually still alive today although much smaller. I think they have locations in New York City and maybe in Washington, D.C. because at one point Marriott Hotels owned them, which I think is headquartered in Washington, D.C. Interesting. When you come to Las Vegas at that time, how do you let people know that the store exists? You send out fliers to businesses and homes within a one- and two-mile radius, which we'd hand deliver sometimes; do radio advertising; and, of course, television advertising. Those would be the two or three most used ways of letting people know about you. 9 The fast food business...that's a tough business it seems like. Yes. I think that it is. I think it's gotten more competitive today than it's been in a long time. It's always been competitive, but it's even more so today. Everybody is selling sandwiches. The convenience stores are. Grocery stores have opened up ready-to-go sandwich sections. And then, of course, you have all these sub shops and sandwich shops that have opened. So yes, it's very, very competitive. My husband, I told him I was going to be talking to you. He said, "Look what we got today in the mail." You got an ad, yes. The menus change rapidly, too, it seems. Yes. It's interesting you say because it has. When we started in '68, we sold one sized roast beef sandwich, soft drinks and potato chips, and that was the entire menu. Potato chips, no fries. No french fries. Probably two or three years later we introduced potato cakes, which we still have today, and then we introduced french fries. But today, depending on the year, we'll have ten to fifteen different kinds of sandwiches on the menu. So the menu has expanded dramatically. As you saw, we also sell nontraditional sandwiches like gyros. Our market fresh line, which is an upscale set of sandwiches served on thick-cut honey wheat bread, has done very, very well. We have expanded into what I call other meat blocks. We're not just roast brief; we're turkey, we're ham, we're corned beef, we're chicken. So we offer a wide variety of sandwiches using all four of those different meats. Our current campaign is a slogan that says, "Arby's, we have the meats," and that's resonated well with the public. So going back into Las Vegas...You were raised Jewish. 10 Right. At what point did you seek out a Jewish community here? That's interesting. I was raised in the '50s in Chicago and I think this is probably similar to other areas. The Jewish population, at least in Chicago, was trying very hard to assimilate, to be Americans. We were very proud of our American heritage. But my temple, which was in the shadow of the University of Chicago, a very progressive area of Chicago, probably did some things that not a lot of other Jewish temples, Reform temples, did. I think in most Reform temples in the '50s men did not wear kippahs for services. On the High Holidays we had a trumpet instead of a shofar. Really? While we had Friday night services, our biggest services were Sunday morning. I don't know how large the congregation was, but I suspect it was one of the larger ones. The name of the temple was Temple Sinai; it was on the South Side of Chicago and I would suspect we probably had two thousand members or more. Reform temples, to my recollection in those days, did not do a lot of bar mitzvahs; it was confirmation. I was confirmed. No bar mitzvah for you. No bar mitzvah. No bar mitzvah then. I was bar mitzvahed much later. I think I was seventy-two. Oh. We'll work up to that. A few years in between, yes. But I was confirmed. It was a very, very progressive temple. Two or three of my confirmation classes were very progressive. One was really what amounts to a comparative religion class. We'd go around to every Christian denomination. We'd study the branch, whether it was Baptist or Presbyterians; we'd go to the service; and then after the service we sat down with the clergy in charge and ask them any questions. We learned the difference 11 between the Greek Orthodox form of the Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic. We may have known more about the difference than the Roman Catholics did, at least most of my friends. That was exciting. The other class, which I know was not very common in the '50s, was the sex education class where a man came in and talked to the boys and a woman came in and talked to the girls in a very informative, clinical way about something that certainly fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys and girls are very uptight [about]. Sure. And back then that sounds very progressive. Yes, this is super progressive. Of course, the third part was just Jewish history and the culture of the Jewish religion. Our rabbi was Louis L. Mann. I think he had about three doctorates, one of which was in theology, but I think he [also] had one in the physical sciences. He was an orator par excellence. When you went to services, he had not only the delivery of Moses on Mount Sinai, but the topics he talked about and the way he wove them into religious discussion, it was more exciting for a young boy or girl to go to a service than to go to the movies; that's how exciting and vibrant he made the services. That's certainly not something you hear about very often that somebody's able to do that. No. There are things that you probably don't even hear about today. I remember when he was teaching us Jewish history and what makes Judaism different from the other religions, he told us that many of the points of view that he was going to express might be a little hard to grasp, but that he was going to talk to us like we were adults, not children. He said, "If you get 30 or 40 percent of what I'm saying, it will be a hundred percent more than if I talk to you like you're children." He did. Of course, this certainly was a tenet of the Reform part of Judaism then. He said, "And if I say anything that doesn't make sense, challenge me and we'll talk it out." So it was a very 12 participative type of an environment. It was a very exciting thing to do. So that was my experience. When I went to college, I joined a Jewish fraternity, ZBT, Zeta Beta Tau. I did go to some events at the Hillel foundation at Indiana University in Bloomington. Then when I went into the service and I got stationed overseas, I really was kind of passive in terms of my involvement in the Jewish community. When I got out of service and came to Chicago and then to Las Vegas, I would go occasionally with friends; I was a High Holiday Jew. I'd go to the High Holiday services and not every year, and when I came to Vegas I probably went less. So I was really kind of a closet Jew in Las Vegas for the first twenty or thirty years until I went on this trip with a TV station that took some of their clients on trips and I met a friend of mine?wasn't a friend then, but whom I met?Norma Friedman, a member of Congregation Ner Tamid. She and I talked. I told her I was Jewish and she said, "What temple do you belong to?" I said, "I don't belong." And she said, "Shame on you." She pulled the Jewish mother guilt trip on me. She said, "Well, you should get involved." So I did. I talked to Rabbi Akselrad. I really liked him a lot. So I subsequently joined Congregation Ner Tamid. I was happy with my involvement with the temple, but I've always liked to be low-key. I know a lot of people like to be well-known and I'm kind of the opposite; I like to be known by very few people. You fly under the radar. I like to fly under the radar. I'm kind of uncomfortable with being out there and highly visible. But as fortune would have it, some of my friends in the temple asked me to be on the board of directors and I agreed. Then subsequently they asked me to be vice president and subsequently 13 president of the temple, which I did from 2007 to 2009. So about what year is Norma cajoling you into [joining the congregation]? That was probably around 2000; somewhere between '95 and 2000. Did you know very many people there? I knew nobody there. Like I said, I wasn't out there in the community at large or in the Jewish [community] very much. So really I don't think I knew anybody in the temple. Got it. Boy, they put you on the fast track to get you? Yes, they sure did. ?in the leadership management role here. I tried to convince them that I was the worst person to be president of a Jewish temple. I had been in the closet, so to speak, in terms of my religious practices for twenty or thirty years. I was in a relationship with a non-Jewish girl, who's my wife now; she's Catholic. Neither of us have children. I kept ticking off all these points why I was really the worst person in the world to be president of a Jewish temple. But the rabbi kept trying to convince me and finally he did. So when I agreed to become involved, it was then that I decided that the president of a temple should be able to read Hebrew, and that's when I enrolled in the B'nai Mitzvah class at Congregation Ner Tamid. Talk to me about that. That seems to be a very important aspect of the congregation. I think it was. First of all, it got me back in touch with my Judaism and also, like I say, learning to read Hebrew and being at the temple more. Obviously, I was going to Friday night services a lot more often. I think a combination of all that. The learning that you get in a B'nai Mitzvah class and learning to read Hebrew and to read from the Torah, all of those things reconnects you with those roots that were still there, but let's say they hadn't been watered for thirty years. 14 So it was a wonderful experience. I'd like to think I did a good job. People told me I did. It's interesting because I really treated my service as president in the same way that I treat my business. I've always had a few principles of how whenever I'm in a leadership position I handle that position. The main thing is really to empower the people that work for you. My biggest complaint with American business today is micromanagement, people who have very bright people working for them, but they micromanage them and they limit the tremendous potential that they have and don't involve them enough in the decision making. I've always felt that whether it's in a temple or in a business, the smartest people in the company are not the people at the top; the people in the fast food business are the people that wait on the customers, and in the temple it's the people who answer the phone. While a lot of other people may ignore those folks that work at the grassroots level, I've always been preoccupied in making them the most important people. Because if you take care of the people who take care of the customers or the congregants in a temple, then I think you have solved most of the problems. It's a transportable management skill that to me is uniformly successful if you use it properly. I think I learned that in the military. I always took care of the people before me before I took care of anything that had to do with Harry. When we went out to play war and we'd be in bivouac and put up tents, I always made sure that all of my troops were well positioned before I put my own tent up. I think that that's what leadership is. There's nothing wrong with setting high goals for your people. But when you're preoccupied with their welfare and making their life exciting, they will return the favor in spades. I'm curious. Since we're kind of on that topic,