Father Abraham

Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

I’m a big fan of the 16th president of the United States.

Abe Lincoln has plenty of people to sing his praises today on his 200th birthday, however, so I’m going to write instead about another Abraham born on February 12. My father, who died in 1998, would have turned 90 today.
 
When I was small I assumed that my father was a namesake of the more famous Abe who shared his birthday. As I grew older I learned that this was unlikely since OUR Abe was born in the spa town of Ciechocinek, Poland.
 
His family came to the United States when he was less than two years old. According to archival information at Ellis Island, the Weisblats arrived on the Holland-America Line ship the Nieuw Amsterdam on December 20, 1920. So the first name was a coincidence—one that made it easy to remember my father’s birthday.
 

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My father was the first member (of many) in his family to go to college. Earning a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, he had an eclectic career in the foundation world. We lived overseas a lot. When we lived in the United States, I loved to visit his offices in Rockefeller Center. They seemed ideal places in which to work. He always had art on the walls. He always had pleasant people to talk to down the hall (mostly women; my father loved women). He always had a couch for visiting and napping. And he always had a spectacular view.
 
When people asked the teenage me what Abe Weisblat did for a living, I usually said that he talked on the telephone. That was all I ever saw him do. As I got older, I realized that his lengthy conversations on the phone constituted hard and effective work. He had a knack for getting people to listen to each other, for explaining the work and point of view of one person to another person with different training and/or nationality.
 
He loved his work, and that example has been a challenge for his children. My brother who likes but doesn’t really adore his career tends to be ambivalent about the whole idea of working, wondering perhaps why he doesn’t get the same kind of satisfaction my father did from his labors. I love my work but make very little money from it. I’m reluctant to find something different and more lucrative do to, however, since my father taught me that work is supposed to be fulfilling.
 
His marriage provided an equally difficult example to live up to. He and my mother were an ideal couple. They were smart, knowledgeable, loving, and charming in completely different ways. They always respected each others’ talents, although they didn’t always agree. My father used to say that always agreeing with someone would be boring. Their life together was never boring.
 
Beyond the family my father also shone. He was simply wonderful with people. He had an interest in just about everyone he met, and he loved to mentor younger professionals in the foundation world and in academia. He never felt jealous of anyone else for an instant.
 
One evening at Singing Brook Farm a group of us were discussing the play The Trip to Bountiful, in which an elderly woman is obsessed with returning to the childhood home in which she remembers being happy. We each took turns identifying our own Bountiful, our special place that represented home and security and happy memories. When my father’s turn came, he explained that his home wasn’t geographic. It was people. And many of them were in the room with him. What a gift!
 
My father seldom cooked so I don’t have a lot of recipes to share from him. His favorite meal when he was alone (which wasn’t very often) was a jar of pickled herring, a martini, and some matzo. He liked to boast that he only needed one fork for this repast since he could use the same one for the martini olive and the herring!
 
For company he did occasionally like to put together a salad of lettuce, oranges, and red onions. (He usually got someone else to wash the lettuce and slice the oranges and onions!) Here is my adaptation of that recipe. He usually tossed it with a classic French vinaigrette, but I like to make it with my maple balsamic salad dressing. Enjoy making and eating it—and think of a father, mother, or grandmother whose birthday is near. Let’s wish them all a happy birthday and cherish their presence or their memory.
 
If you enjoy this post, please consider taking out a free e-mail subscription to my blog! The form is at the top right of the main page. Meanwhile, here is the recipe………
 
 
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Uncle Abe’s Orange and Onion Salad (with a little twist from Tinky)
 
Ingredients:
 
half a head of Boston lettuce (more if the head is very small)
1 orange, peeled and sliced thinly
1/3 red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
 
Instructions:
 
Break up the lettuce with your fingers. Place it in a salad bowl with the orange and onion slices.
 
In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the vinegar, syrup, garlic, mustard, water, salt, and pepper. Shake thoroughly. Add the oil, and shake again. Pour a third to half of the vinaigrette over the salad, and toss well. Add a little more if you think you need it. (Leftover vinaigrette may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month; just be sure to bring it to room temperature and shake it again before using it).
 
Serves 4.
I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!

I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!

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18 Responses to “Father Abraham”

  1. Herb Hiller says:

    I am not sure where to post this, dear Ms. Chanteuse, but I do always remember that Lincoln was born on Abe’s birthday. Abe was always my favorite cousin, the older one. He was liberal minded, always questioning things. He was the door opener for our family. You see, we were all close. The parental brothers and sister lived with their families within a few blocks of each other. That was probably the immigrant thinking, the extended compound; wanting to be close in a foreign land where assimilation was everything. The three households significantly defined Long Beach for me. But Abe by his questing reached beyond our front porches and our walks to the railroad station. From early on, he opened doors one way or another. I remember once, as I neared the end of whooping cough, he and a pal took me to the town boardwalk maybe a day earlier than Mom would have allowed. But somehow she wasn’t there, and Abe was. Abe sought education when I was happy enough to be educated. He married outside the faith and, with Jan, traveled far. He worked for government, maybe the ultimate anathema in our Republican family (at least my father’s). I loved him in a way that was unmatched by my affection for other family members. There were pictures of Abe in knickers and in full black woolen swimsuits. He was athletic – yes, a lifeguard, too. He was heroic like no one else. I don’t think of him enough. In some of my best ways, I’m Abe’s young cousin Herb.

  2. Ginny says:

    Dear Girl,

    Thank you SO much for this lovely remembrance. Feb. 20 would be my Mom’s 80th birthday. She has been gone now 29 years and your writing made me think that I, also, can take a moment to write about her this year, if
    just for myself. I’ve shied away from it for fear, I think, of total collapse.

    Your dad was always a favorite sight for me, usually at the Village Information Center. Charming, funny and kind, as I recall, to the “new” flatlander in the midst.

    Here’s a hug for you and Jan and a later-day martini hoisted to all the salt-of-the-earth Abes.

    lots of love and thanks,
    Ginny

  3. Peter says:

    About ten years ago I was picking up Ken after a conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. (The conference had been about corporate social responsibility.) It must have been early spring because the weather was neither warm nor dry – it was raining heavily. Ken was waiting at the curb next to another fellow. It turned out to be an earnest college student who’d attended the conference while visiting Washington during his spring break. The kid needed a ride and so we drove him to his destination; during the drive I asked about his college, his major, his interests, etc. when he mentioned agricultural economics I lit up and told him our neighbor was an agricultural economist. Apparently there aren’t a lot of them: my passenger asked who it was and when I said, “Abe Weisblat” he was clearly stunned and said, “Wow! He’s my hero!” It was like telling a teenager who’s crazy about sports that Michael Jordan is your best friend.

    One of the appealing bits of decoration around your grandmother’s table in the Hawley kitchen (at least something that’s always appealed to me) is the poster of the many colorful varieties of rice. Graphically the poster is modeled after the many “Doors of Dublin” posters that have generated countless other cities to document their doors. The array of rice sizes, shapes and colors is fascinating, and I’m sure the ones shown represent only a handful of the many varieties of rice that exist worldwide. Each time I see it I recall that it was Abe’s work which began with these varieties and developed improved rice strains that have fed the world and kept many, many people in the developing world alive.
    _______________________________________________

    Here’s one rice recipe, but when I searched for “best New Delhi rice recipes” I was surprised at the number of links that appeared. The fact that rice recipes continue abound throughout southern and southeast Asia is, in fact, largely because of your father’s work. I’d offer an asafoetida martini, but know Abe would have abhorred it. -Peter

    TAMARIND PONGAL

    Ingredients : – 1cup raw rice, 1 big dry red chillies, 1 pinch asafoetida, 1 sprig curry leaves, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds, ½ teaspoon black gram, ½ teaspoon Bengal gram, lemon sized tamarind, 1 cup water , 2 tablespoons oil and salt to taste.

    Preparation time : – 30 minutes Serves : – 2

    HOW TO PREPARE : – Soak rice for an hour. Soak the tamarind in half cup water. Drain the water completely. Grind it one by two in a blender. Now take a frying pan and pour the oil. When the oil is hot add the mustard seeds and red chillies and let them crackle. Add the curry leaves, asafoetida, black gram and Bengal gram. Strain the tamarind and add the tamarind water to the pan and stir well. Add the ground rice and sauté for a while. Add water according to desire. Cover with a lid, simmer and cook. Check at regular intervals if there is enough water and is the rice cooked. Since its ground rice it may be quick to stick to the bottom and so keep stirring on and off. Serve hot with pudina chutney.

  4. Martin Abel says:

    Thanks Tinky for the fond remembrances. We remember Abe for his innate wisdom, sold in measure by his wonderful sense of humor. The martinis and cigars were also good!

  5. Kelly Boyd says:

    I only have great memories of Abe, but I especially remember him at dinner parties. He always allowed everyone space to talk, but knew how to draw them out as well. So generous. And of course, he and Jan were such a great team that one can only envy them and try to emulate them as much as possible. So I am adding my celebration of this day to yours.

  6. Gene Warren says:

    February 13. 2009 – Friday

    My friend Abe Weisblat.

    One of my regrets is my failure to continue a friendship with Abe that was aborted with Army service started in June, 1941 when I was drafted.

    I met Abe as the result of my parents who were friendly with the Hillers. I lived at 900 West End Avenue (104th Street) and Abe lived as best I can recall between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on about 107th Street. My mother suggested that Abe could be a nice friend. The Hillers – two brothers in the ladies apparel manufacturing business who were siblings of Abe’s mother.

    Abe and I became counselors at a day camp – Krohn”s – in Long Beach, NY. Every morning we used to meet and were picked up by bus driven by Pete Dipaola who was a teacher in the high school. Other counselors were Dolly and Helen. After work Abe and I got the job of disassembling the tennis courts at a school down the block from Krohn’s. In exchange for this service we could play there and it was really nice. Pete went on to become principal at a high school in Westchester. Dolly lives in a nursing home I think in the Boston area. Helen and her parents lived across the street from us on West End Avenue. She was a Long Beach resident.

    Abe and I rode bicycles. I can recall that he and I rode to Long Beach where his parents lived in a house and we visited with them.

    I knew that Abe was an intellectual but at that time I did not appreciate this. He loved the song “Stardust” and had recordings done by many different musicians. Abe went to NYU and became a teacher after graduation at Stevens Institute. I went to CCNY and went to work while a night student. My guess is that our seeing one another ended sometime during our school years and prior to being drafted. I became a CPA and he worked most years for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – I think!

    After many years of separation I called Abe and met with him when he worked for the R’s at Radio City. He took me to his office and I was impressed with the enormous collection of art on the walls. My comment was to the effect that it was nice to be wealthy and afford all these lovely pieces. Abe answered – these are all mine. It seems that Abe collected art wherever he worked and when he married his money went to art. We had a great meeting and chatted about times past. That was my last visit with him.

    One day on the Long Island Railroad when going to work I found a wrist watch. It was in a box and to my surprise it was the property of one the Hillers who lived in Merrick at that time. I was able to return the watch.

    This narrative is broken up and is more stream of consciousness writing than a well put together piece. Note the lack of dates. I am terrible at affixing exact times and have no way of establishing when things occurred. I can recall talking with Abe in Long Beach and wondering if we would finish college before going to war. Fighting started in Europe and the US did not experience Pearl Harbor as yet. This might have been during the time that George Gershwin died. I think Ira Gershwin, George’s brother and lyricist finished the song Where Or When.

    All this happened before Abe was married and when we were seeing one another.

  7. Amy MacDonald says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Tinky! Like everyone else, I loved your dad. His generous and sincere interest in the doings of this awkward college student as she negotiated the transitions of that time of life were blessings. Later, when I brought my babies to meet him and your mother at the farm, he was delighted. He made me feel that just my being in the world was a gift. At one point during that last visit, he turned to us and said, with great satisfaction, “Old friends are the best.” As always, his words made me feel honored and loved, but I really believe that Abe didn’t have acquaintances. He treated everyone as an old and treasured friend.

  8. Adrienne Germain says:

    I often remember Abe. He was a great mentor and friend in the challenging, early days of my work for women. He, more than most I have known, invested in younger people and was willing to learn and listen. I loved him very much.

  9. Michaela Walsh says:

    Your dad was wonderfully helpful to me during the formative days of Women’s World Banking. He also spoke of you very often.

    Abe was without a doubt the best networker of anyone in the foundation world during his career. He taught me how to identify truly committed and ethical people around the world — in fact, he put me in touch with my successor as president of WWB in 1990. Nancy Barry was a young professional at the World Bank and he wanted me to meet her in the worst way. I also believe he put me in touch with many of the Indian and Filipina women he worked with. I think of him often. Cheers to you and happy birthday to him.

    Michaela Walsh

  10. Joan Dunlop says:

    I have two strong memories of Abe. One is about values and the other about adventure.

    The value was his interest in, regard for and protection of Adrienne Germain. He was prescient and decades ahead of his time in identifying her passion and her talent. He spent hours, if not days and weeks, trying to steer her into calm waters to prevent her falling against sharp rocks — of which there were many surrounding what she cared about and where she wanted to go.

    Although women’s roles in development or women’s rights or reproductive health were not issues Abe knew very much about — he nevertheless was convinced Adrienne had much to contribute to the world. He briefed her on ag economics, he mentored her in ways I can’t even remember except he was always introducing her to important people. The quintessential networker, Abe knew how to maneuver for and with those he cared about and admired. His generosity of spirit was boundless. Many people owe their careers and success in the world to his moral support, sage advice and exquisite skill at just showing up at the right moment.

    The adventure was a trip I took with Abe and Adrienne in South and Southeast Asia. I was working for John D. Rockefeller 3rd and I’d finally persuaded him that I should see something of other parts of the world where poverty and population collide. Abe decided that anyone with an office next door to JDR3rd needed, by definition, to be educated. And since the Agricultural Development Council was funded by JDR – Abe was regarded as a trustworthy guide. Adrienne had already won JDR’s trust from her work on the speech he gave at the Population Conference in Budapest in 1974.

    How I wish I had kept a journal and how I wish my memory was not so blurred or I had the time to go back into the Rockefeller Archives and research this particular period of my life. I think it must have been 1976. Adrienne and I were young and extremely outspoken. When I recall some of my own pronouncements about women’s rights — I cringe. I remember lying across a sofa somewhere where it was very hot. I was exhausted, but it was not appropriate protocol. And Abe’s colleagues wondered what on earth Abe was doing escorting these two young women (self-confessed feminists) to the Philippines and India and Hong Kong and perhaps other places too that I can no longer recall.

    We met very senior people — I remember one prominent male banker — who had simply never heard the ideas or concepts flowing off Adrienne’s silver tongue. I was amazed at her fluency. Abe was the perennial Greek chorus, I tried to look supportive and we soldiered on.
    Some of the younger mentees were less enthusiastic and perhaps some even paid attention to what we said.

    But Abe always knew when to slow down the intensity; take us to some wonderful hotel for a great martini and listen to our frustrations… He was one of the “significant influencers” who supported us in our loneliness and our conviction — the International Women’s Health Coalition owes much to his spirit and his way of being in the world.

    Thanks, Tinky – for giving me the excuse and the moment to think about Abe and those days. Warmest wishes to you, JOAN

  11. Edward Clay says:

    Dear Tinky, I’m currently in Bangkok. I have been working with young researchers in Hanoi who are about the same age as when I first met your father, Abe, in New Delhi. I recall how helpful he was, and try to follow his example. Coming from Dhaka almost two weeks ago I found myself with a professor from Kasetsaart University who remembered Shao er Ong, your father’s old colleague with A/D/C as another good and very helpful person. You must give greetings from Mavis (who is with me here visiting our son, his wife and our grandson of 14 months) to you mother, Jan.
    All our best wishes, Edward

  12. E. Sheppard says:

    What a great article. I really liked it. I am like you – I much prefer to do a job that I LOVE rather than have to do. I have had plenty of the latter in my life, and may have to have later on, but for now writing, tutoring, and learning pottery are giving me much satisfaction. Your father had the right idea about working – to enjoy what you are doing. Your father sounds like a unique and intelligent individual with a great sense of humor, which I think you have inherited. It was fun to see the New Delhi rice recipe, too, along with the salad. Kudos.

  13. Eugene Warren says:

    Dear Tinky,
    I was a friend of Abe and family and recall him. I would like your email address and inquire about his STARDUST collection. He liked that song and collected many recordings. He and I were good friends; that came to an end with WW II.

  14. tinkyweisblat says:

    Hi, Gene–Of course I remember you! If we happen on any recordings of “Stardust,” I’ll be happy to share them, but I’m afraid we’ve never seen them so it’s unlikely. In fact, I didn’t know he loved that song until you told me after his death. Now I think about him whenever I hear it or sing it. So thank you for that, and we’ll keep our eyes open………..
    Tinky

  15. Devany says:

    Tinky, This was a great post. What a wonderful treasure of memories you have. XOXO

  16. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, Devany! I couldn’t agree more.

  17. Pat Lowell says:

    Hi Tinky,
    I loved your post of your father – he is still living through all your memories, and of those whose lives he touched, and beyond like the ripples in a pond. The mention of Ellis Island is reminiscent of my mother’s arrival at age 10(with her mother and little brother) from the Austrian Tyrol at the Island on February 14, 1920. Their ship was the Giuseppe Verdi and had sailed from Naples. Difficult as it is sometimes, I am trying to write a coherent family story for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You have given me much needed encouragement. Thank you!
    Pat

  18. tinkyweisblat says:

    Go for it, Pat! I know you will write something that your family will treasure.

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