Monday, September 7, 2009

Bernard Manekin, October 4, 1914 - September 5, 2009

This past Saturday night, after a week of visits from his closest friends, family members, nurses and others, my grandfather exhaled his last breath in the physical world before passing on to a better place. His influence and steady presence in my life, the lives of my Dad and two uncles, his three step-daughters, as well as the lives of his 19 other grandchildren and 20 great-grandhildren, cannot be overstated. Nor do I believe I am up to the task of expressing the impact he has had on all of our lives along with his beloved community of Baltimore, or as I fondly remember him pronouncing in his authentically local accent, "Bawl-dee-more." With a little bit of biographical help from written remembrances courtesy of my Dad and Uncle Bob, however, I hope to convey how important this man was to everyone in my family and to so many others.

Pop-pop was a self made man. Though he was not the type to repeat stories of perseverance and dealing with adversity through tough Depression era times, that is exactly what he did. As I read in my Uncle Bob's insightful and personal remarks about his father, Pop-pop worked 50 hours a week at the Marlborough Shirt Factory, attended law school nights and weekends, and passed the Bar examination his first try.

After serving in the Army, having enlisted as a private and left as a captain, my grandfather started a real estate company with his brother, the late Harold Manekin, named Manekin & Co. Closely working with his brother Harold, Manekin & Co. would be involved in landmark Baltimore buildings such as the iconic, elegant Mies Van der Rhoe designed One Charles Center, the Rotunda shopping center, the Suntrust Bank building and many other projects. Later on, with the help of my Dad, uncle Bob and cousin Donald, there would be projects in Columbia and Frederick MD, as well as in northern Virginia.

Pop-pop was very active in the Baltimore community, serving in a variety of leadership roles for his favorite causes: Jewish charities; local economic development boards; the visual arts; and his cherished position as lifetime trustee at The Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies.

There was a certain dignity, even gravitas, in the way that my grandfather carried himself. Not to say that he wasn't warm and loving, far from it. In particular, I seem to recall a crying baby in synagogue direct his glance toward a smiling Pop-Pop, and instantly cries became cooing noises, much to the relief of the baby's parents and everyone in the rows at Chizuk Amuno.

Every bit the product of his era, Pop-Pop loved songs by Frank Sinatra, and surely could pull off convincingly suave, tuneful, renditions of the hits, if hearing him sing during Jewish holidays was any indication: "Berney has such a beautiful voice," I would hear friends and relatives say after singing the blessings and lighting sabbath candles.

Nothing was as important to Pop-Pop as family. I remember how his face would light up after telling him that I had visited Aunt Abby in San Diego, or spent a week with Uncle Chip's family celebrating my cousin Elisheva's marriage in Jerusalem.

My last in-depth conversation with my grandfather was a year ago. My grandmother was also alive then. Into their 90's, they were a good bit more frail, but clearly engaged and aware of not only what was going on in my life, but that of the rest of our family as well - and, as the 20 grandchildren along with 20 great-grandchildren will attest, it's a large family. Just as he had for the past 29 years of my life, Pop-pop offered encouragement in my endeavors, and re-stated what he has been telling me with increasing conviction and affection ever since I went off to college. To paraphrase, it was, "I know you're going to be just fine, I believe in you and expect nothing but the best." And expect the best Pop-Pop did. From me, his beloved family of which he was so proud, and anyone who was fortunate enough to have known him.