Letter to Mei Feng Zhang June 18, 2006

Letter to Mei Feng Zhang


Richard J. Garfunkel

June 18, 2006



June 18, 2006


Dear Ms. Zhang,


I hope that this letter finds you and yours quite well. I must say that your wonderful letter was a terrific surprise on this Father’s Day weekend. It is always a pleasure to get mail and your missive was well appreciated. In fact I will make copies of it and send it to some of my AB Davis/ Mount Vernon High friends. I usually send out two Jon Breen Fund letters each spring and summer and you will be certainly mentioned in the second. (I have included last year’s and this year’s along with this letter and some other essays.


Your Jon Breen essay was quite interesting and very personal. It was very difficult to make my choices. I therefore restricted my finalists to the essayists that focused more on the problem of immigration and its direct positive or negative impact. I have a friend from high school whose son goes to Yale and he is working in China this summer. She has a Chinese friend who is going to the Kennedy School at Harvard, where my daughter works. My friend is off to China for a three-week visit and this friend will serve as her guide. Before she left, I sent her a copy of your essay and the one from another Chinese girl. I thought she would enjoy reading the first hand accounts of two Chinese immigrant family’s struggle to become “real” Americans. Of course it has never been really easy for anyone. Yes, for sure, we are a nation of immigrants. But comparing America of today to our colonial America population, which was made up of mostly British subjects, Germans, Hessians from the Revolutionary War, Dutch and some scattering of others would be quite foolish. Irish and Germans dominated the second great immigration period in the 1840’s. The second immigration, which certainly assisted our burgeoning industrial revolution, was aided and abetted by the potato famine in Ireland, and the social upheaval and revolutions in Europe. The Irish were Catholic, but they spoke English and in a sense they were used to the ways of the British laws and customs, which still pre-dominated here. The Germans were industrious northern Europeans and a majority of them were Lutheran Protestants, which enabled them to fit in religiously. Many immigrated to the Midwest where they became “homesteaders” and farmers. The last great legal immigration phase was in the period of 1880 to 1914. With this new and large group, the ethnic composition started to change. Though still white, these immigrants were neither northern European nor Protestant. They were Slavic, Polish Catholics, Russian Eastern Orthodox, Italian Catholics, or Jews from the shtels of Eastern Europe. Other Jews that had immigrated, in smaller numbers, at earlier times were Sephardim or Spanish Jews from Holland, North Africa and the Middle East. This last group so threatened the ruling northern Euro-centric ruling classes that in the 1920’s national origin immigration quotas were enacted. As a result of that climate of fear, the most prestigious American universities, which had gone to a meritocracy guided standard and SAT scores, put in quotas regarding the makeup of their new freshman classes. By 1922 Harvard had become over 20% Jewish and that number seemed to threaten the reputation and social climate of America’s top school. A. Lawrence Lowell, the President of Harvard and Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University along with their peers at other Ivy Colleges started to create quotas. As a result of these restrictions the amount of Jewish students gradually and substantially were reduced. Therefore internal discrimination in higher education started to affect American citizens in a similar but different ways. So, on one hand, Asians were limited by the Chinese and Japanese Exclusion Acts, and new immigration was now legislated to favor the old northern European groups and, on the other hand, internal avenues of advancement were now being limited by prejudice, quotas, red-lining and outright discrimination regarding education, accommodation and where one could live. Hotels, resorts and clubs became restricted. Even the ability to work in a hospital as a Doctor, or in a Fortune 500 company or a bank was restricted by custom. With regard to the “quota” system at the top colleges you should read Stand Columbia, The Chosen and The Making of Princeton University.


Three of my grandparents were born in Europe and one grandmother was born in Troy, NY in 1890. My maternal grand father immigrated from Roumania in 1891 and settled in NYC. I have absolutely no idea where he lived in NYC. He came to America with a number of older siblings. It was said that his oldest brother avoided being drafted into the Russian Army by resisting arrest in 1877. That was a period of time when Russia was at war with Turkey and they commonly impressed or forcefully drafted young men from Roumania into their army. I was told that he had a “price” on his head and that he eventually escaped to American and New York. Later others in his family also immigrated. My mother, who just passed away at age 98, never really told me details of where her paternal grandparents had settled in New York. My father’s parents came here from Vienna Austria in the 1880’s and all of his surviving three brothers and a sister were born here. My father passed away at 101 in May of 2005 and his only sister lived to 102 the year before. But what had happened to other children that were born to his parents, either in Austria, or here I do not know.


So immigration, on one hand, has been the new life-blood constantly injected into the heart of the country, but on the other hand it has had a tendency to alter and change the fabric of life here in America. As each transfusion of new blood comes in with each immigrant group, the culture changes in more ways than one. Whether it is changes in the language, or the cuisine, or the fashions, or the art, or the spirituality, each earlier group is affected a bit differently. All in all, power sharing must eventually occur. But clearly the average American, no matter whom his/her parents or grandparents were, wants all immigrants to assimilate. For most American’s, the sooner, the better. A large amount of Americans see bilingualism as a divisive threat and would like at least the second generation to become fluent in English. Of course there are many more issues that cut across all elements of our social order. But that discussion is for a different time.


I took the liberty of sending you some of my recent writings, which include three long emails to Jonathan Alter of Newsweek Magazine regarding his recent book on FDR and our visit to the Colony Club in NYC. I also included a piece I wrote to Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the leading historians in the world, and Winston Churchill’s official biographer on his seminal book on British appeasement prior to WWII and a long comment I made on his recent book Churchill in America.  Along with those I sent you my piece on my trips to Hyde Park, some more writing on FDR and also some of my personal memories of Mount Vernon where I lived from 1945 to 1966.


With regards to Barnard College, I am sure that my wife Linda, who was, and is President of her Class of 1968, would certainly share with you her thoughts about the school. You should give her a ring one day.


Stay well and keep on corresponding. Maybe will go to lunch one of these days.




Richard J. Garfunkel



My Parents- A Long Life 6-16-06

My Parents- A Long Life!


Richard J. Garfunkel



My parents lived a long and basically happy and rewarding life together for almost 70 years. On this day it would have been my parent’s 71st anniversary. It is not often that a couple can live to age 100 and 98 and that marriage can be blessed by relatively decent health through the vast majority of those years. From the perspective of personality, if there were truth to the adage that opposites attract, my parents would be the poster children. My mother was fair-skinned; non-athletic, strong-willed, demanding, strongly opinionated, loved horseback riding when she was a gal, enjoyed museums, and loved to paint. She was awarded the Saint Gauden’s Art Prize while at George Washington High School in upper Manhattan. She enjoyed cooking and had a very seasoned and varied palate. She was not very tolerant of social misbehavior and was highly critical of people who had bad manners. She believed wholeheartedly in high fashion and dressed with the highest level of sophistication whenever she was in the public. Even at home she didn’t “slum” around. She was extremely critical of young and older women who did not wear the proper underwear or foundation garments. She watched her weight, but at times it was a struggle exacerbated by an under-active metabolism. But, all in all, with all of her social criticism she was politically tolerant, liberal about people’s private habits and was certainly not a prude. She never had real political favorites except for Al Smith and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One wouldn’t think of her as a religious person, but more of a spiritual one. Like many people of her background she prided herself in speaking the English language properly and hated slang and would correct others and me about the misuse of grammar and syntax. She loved reading and enjoyed any type of mystery. She believed in a varied cuisine and we were constantly served new and exotic vegetables and dishes every day. Unfortunately I never really liked vegetables and I leaned to hate Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lima beans and the like. But she believed dogmatically in a daily dose of vegetables and fruit. Besides that she was an early believer in taking vitamins and often bombarded herself with vitamin C. Maybe that’s why my parents lived so long. She learned cooking from her father and not her mother.


My grandfather loved to cook all of his long lifetime and eating was a primary pleasure and activity for him. He had favorite jaunts to eat in New York and I remember going often to Keen’s Chop House, Luchows, Al and Dicks, and the seafood joints on 3rd Avenue. He had charge accounts in all the fine restaurants in New York before the popularity of credit cards emerged. One time he came up to Boston, when I was in college, and made a corned beef for my roommate and me. My mother’s culinary efforts cut across the cuisine of the world. One night it could be an Indian dish with curry, the next it could be a lobster, or her own lasagna. She always reminded me to eat my food because “children were starving in China.” When it came to fruit, my father was the expert and his knowledge of melons was legendary. He constantly ate honeydews, cantaloupes, watermelons and the more exotic cassavas or even hand melons when we were in Albany. (A hand melon, considered the most delicious of all, had a small hand bred into the outside skin and was only available in the Albany and Saratoga region.) He also loved peaches, apples, plums and nectarines and was quite critical regarding their quality. When it came to their favorite food, I could say with confidence that my father loved a good Isaac Gellis salami sandwich and my mother loved shrimps, great blended cheeses; like Stilton, and exotic Greek olives.


My father was quite different than my mother. He was dark, muscular, athletic and had a great sense of humor. He was an outstanding swimmer almost all of his life, wherein my mother rarely got her feet wet. He was a championship handball player in Manhattan Beach in the late 1920’s and 30’s and while at Stuyvesant High School played against Lou Gehrig in a baseball game, when the “Iron Horse” attended Commerce High. He played golf up into his mid 90’s when his knees started to ache. He was an excellent golfer and once had two holes-in-one within a few days of each other. He spent many years on the public “links” of Westchester while he was a member of the beach clubs on Davenport Neck in New Rochelle, and when his kids (Kaaren and I) were more grown up, joined and played golf at Ryewood, Leewood, and Lake Isle. He never cooked, except eggs in the morning, and had a less adventurous diet than my mother. She loved olives and anchovies and he despised them. He loved sports on television, but had very little interest in going out of his way to go a ballpark or stadium. One had to beg him to go to a game. My mother would never watch any type of sporting event, but could sit for hours in front of the cooking network. My mother made me a Yankee fan for some strange reason, and my father was a confirmed Giant fan until they moved to San Francisco. Then he had a slight passing interest in the Mets. He was the outdoors type, who could sit for hours in the sun baking to a deep tan. My mother with her fair skin would sit under a shade tree, with a broad brimmed hat, and read, or crochet or paint. My father was gregarious and made friends almost instantly at the card tables or on the golf course. He loved the company of the “boys.” He loved to play gin and pinochle. My mother was much less outgoing, a bit more controlled and picked her relationships with care. She was an excellent card player, but was quickly fed up with canasta, couldn’t find enough mahjong players, and became an expert bridge and duplicate bridge player. Her last active years were spent playing and winning at duplicate at the clubs and the bridge events all over Westchester.


But opposites do often attract. In 1934 my father became my mother’s steady Friday night date. When he wanted to become her Saturday night steady, she wanted to become engaged. Not long after that arrangement, the famous Rabbi Steven Wise, of the Free Synagogue of New York, married them. They lived in someone’s mansion in Sheepshead Bay for a year, and I was told more than once that they ate out every night at Lundy’s because they did not have a kitchen. Eventually they moved to 707 Beverly Road in Brooklyn, where they lived until the end of the war. During those war years they summered, with my sister Kaaren, in a house in Long Beach. When the peace came they chose Mount Vernon over Scarsdale on the advise of a friend Sam Miller, who was my grandfather’s lawyer. I am not sure whether my mother was ever happy about that decision. But that was long ago.


My parent’s did have a few things in common though. They did love to dance, dress up, go to the theater and enjoy great show music. I can recall vividly when they had their 16th wedding anniversary and went to see South Pacific. The other show that I recall they loved was My Fair Lady, who wouldn’t? My mother danced into her early 90’s with her traditional high-heeled shoes, and they won many prizes on the dance floor. Their friends, like many of that generation played cards, and when it came to bridge my father was an adequate partner for my mother. She was a demanding player and they were a contentious couple and bridge games could flare up with incendiary consequences. But, all in all, with 70 years of battling they stayed lovingly together.


My father was practically never sick a day in his life. He smoked cigars up to around age 80, developed a sore throat and then gave them up forever. I don’t recall him ever pining for the taste of a cigar again. He remained quite healthy except for his knees. Eventually the cartilage wore away, it became difficult for him to swing a club and at 95 he had to give golf. He was hitting the ball quite well at that age and my son Jon and I have great memories of golfing with him in those last few years of his playing. He drove up and through his hundredth birthday and was driving right to his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. He still had a good long-term memory and could always relate the old stories. His immediate memory wasn’t the greatest and one had to repeat things now and again, but he was able to get the message.


My mother, who smoked cigarettes into her fifties, always had some sort of a health problem or concern, but outlived the countless doctors she had on retainer. She survived a car accident that resulted in a broken ankle. She slipped on a newly waxed floor that caused another break and she broke shoulder and wrist another time. She overcame breast cancer, lung cancer, angina, arthritis and a plethora of other niggling ailments. She even broke her hip at age 96 and was able to finally recover and walk on her own with a cane. Finally after hospice care at home for over one hundred days and a heroic struggle for life, she succumbed to old age probably a reoccurrence of cancer. She always liked a good fight and her last one could not be won, but she certainly proved her mettle. As I have said many times, it’s the good news/ bad new story. The good news is one lives a long time, the bad news is that one lives a long time. Thankfully her loyal and dedicated caregivers, Miriam and Doxie, stayed with her right to the end, and made her passage from this world as comfortable as possible. One would also be remiss not to thank the wonderful care that Hospice of Westchester delivers. All of them are dedicated “Angels of Mercy and Kindness.”


As I was going in and out their building, in my effort to clean up and take care of their possessions, I met a number of people who had known my parents over some of the 40 years that they had lived there. The comments of respect and awe were universal. One fellow who was visiting his parents told me on how his mother was amazed at my mother’s “jitterbugging” skills at Lake Isle CC. My mother was still dancing up a storm until age 92, or so, in her trademark spike high heals. It was gratifying to be stopped and have people extend their condolences and their memories of my parents.


Of course the trauma of loss and separation affects all of us, at one time, or another. But the reality of closing the “door” for the last time is almost upon me. As I clean out their apartment and review memories that cover decades, I recall the line from Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again.” But for me it was a regular habit for forty years of going back to Palmer Road. My Mount Vernon home I had left at 21, but this home I saw, enjoyed and visited almost every week of my adult life. I’ll remember the great roast beef dinners, the Gershwin music, the baseball games on television, the family reunions with my sister, her husband Charles and all of our children, my mother’s paintings that covered all of her walls, and the long, long conversation on just about anything. My mother would always ask, ”What’s new on the Rialto?” My parents outlived their generation and almost all of their friends and certainly their early acquaintances. One thing that could be said with certainty, they didn’t bemoan their age, their limitations and their circumstance. They were always realists about what life offered and self-reliant. They never wanted to be a burden on anyone. Though they had high standards, excellent taste and strong values, they understood that others had different “frames of reference.” Being self-critical and having high standards is an excellent regimen for anyone. If I have learned anything from them it is to do the right things and set a strong, good and proper example for others. Hopefully both my sister and myself have fulfilled that lesson.

Hyde Park on a Beautiful Afternoon 6-5-2006


Hyde Park on a Beautiful Afternoon


Richard J. Garfunkel

June 5, 2006


Hello from sunny Tarrytown. Spent a few interesting hours yesterday up in the beautiful rolling hills of Dutchess County, while visiting Hyde Park, the home of the late President. I was invited to the reception for the new CEO and President of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI), Mr. John Vincent Boyer. Mr. Boyer, who was the director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Ct., for the past 16 years, was trained as an architectural historian at University of California and Princeton. With FDR’s interest in architecture, and his support for classic Dutch-style stone edifices in Hyde Park, Mr. Boyer should fit right in quite comfortably.


The trip was quite smooth and uneventful, as I started out around 4:15 pm on the Saw Mill River Parkway, and merged onto the rolling hills of the Taconic Parkway. Eventually one goes north past the Mohansic Golf Course and the FDR State Park and reaches the Route 55 exit. It’s another 6 or 7 miles on 55 West from La Grange to Poughkeepsie and the Hudson River. Once through that old river town and past Vassar College, I turned north on Route 9 and drove past Marist College and the Culinary Institute into the Village of Hyde Park. Nowadays Route 9 is pretty built up and even the old entrance to the Presidential grounds has been changed to accommodate the added traffic. In the last few years they built the terrific Henry A. Wallace Center, in the same style as the Library and it is much easier driving in and finding parking. Henry A. Wallace, the late Vice-President of the United States (1941-5) was a very popular and exceptional Secretary of Agriculture (1933-40) and after being forced off the Presidential ticket in 1944, served as Secretary of Commerce (1945-6). He was a world famous agronomist and he was the creator of hybrid corn amongst many other agricultural patents. Those patents made his heirs quite well off and their money helped build the Wallace Visitor Center. Though he later served as editor of The New Republic and ran unsuccessfully for President in 1948, he was criticized as being too gullible, too liberal and to a degree a captive of mystics. But, be that as it may, the Wallace Center is a beautiful edifice, and not so long ago, when I came up for the dedication, I met his son who seemed quite normal to me.


 The grounds, of course, look the same as they had been since FDR’s day. I was up there in the mid 1950’s and Linda and I made a trip in the summer of 1969 I believe. Of course, since then, I have been there many times and I am always enamored by the charm and beauty of the mid-Hudson River Valley. The grounds are well kept by the National Park Service and the Library is run by Cynthia Koch, an extremely dedicated and capable person, and her very able staff. Linda and I saw her, and the other directors of the Presidential libraries at a symposium sponsored by the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, when we were out there for the opening of the Clinton Library.




After a few glasses of wine, and many tasty canapés I got to talk to the Mr. Boyer, Chris Breiseth, the outgoing President of FERI and some of the journalists in attendance. I would like to see the Library and the Roosevelt Institute sponsor a Roosevelt book exchange program. As part of that effort, I would like to see a comprehensive list developed of all the books on Roosevelt, his family, friends, associates and his era. I would also like to see people contribute their old books on FDR, and that era, to the library to be the nucleus of a book exchange for students. Students and others could exchange one Roosevelt book for another. I believe that this would encourage more reading and scholarship. Today there are too many books being thrown out and lost forever. If this effort succeeds, the FDR Library could become the repository of many books on FDR that they may not have, and many more they could share with others.


Aside from all of that, Jonathan Alter will be up in Hyde Park talking about his new book, The Defining Moment, The First Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, on Saturday, June 24th. I suggest that all of you that live within reasonable distance of that great place go spend a day up there and meet Jonathan Alter and get his book. I hope some of you will join me up there.



Comments on Andrew Gumbel's article and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ” June 2006

Letter t0 the Los Angeles City Beat Blog- Not Enough Democracy

comments by Richard J. Garfunkel

June 2, 2006

Re: “Not Enough Democracy,” June 2], first of all, FDR won four straight elections, not the three as indicated in Andrew Gumbel’s article. Where has he been? In actuality, FDR loved the film [Mr. Smith Goes to Washington], and the Congress despised it. In fact, in one Washington showing at the time of its opening, it was roundly booed and many congressmen walked out. The picture wasn’t anti-development, but anti-graft and corruption. Montana did not have a big-city machine – its senators were often Democrats in those days and quite independent. Thomas Walsh, a Democrat and a great Wilson supporter, who represented Montana from 1913 until his death in 1933, led the investigation of the Teapot Dome Scandal which was much like the situation Jefferson Smith was filibustering against [in the film]. Frank Capra claimed later in life that he hated FDR and was a Republican, but his New Deal-era films, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and You Can’t Take it With You, were certainly not conservative-leaning. With regards to Truman and the Pendergast machine, that pre-dated FDR, whose Justice Department later sent Tom Pendergast to jail. FDR started his career as anti-Tammany, and his longtime political relationship with the famous Tammany governor, Alfred E. Smith, was tenuous at best. FDR was the ultimate combination: a realist with ideals, and he knew that to succeed he had to work with big-city machines. But the so-called statewide machine run by Edward Arnold in Mr. Smith was not big city, but big money! I see Mr. Smith as anti-Senate, not anti-FDR; and the Senate was controlled by a seniority system dominated by southern Democrats that FDR attempted to purge in the 1938 primaries. Unfortunately, he failed against many political Neanderthals like Walter George.

RJ Garfunkel, Tarrytown, New York