Me, Barbra Streisand and My Grandfather

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Barbra Streisand on the Jack Paar Show – April 5, 1961

Today, my grandfather, Louis Landesman z”l, would have turned 102. As many of you know, if it weren’t for my grandfather, I would not have become a rabbi. I was raised in a very secular household. I was not affiliated with Judaism in any way. But, I had my grandfather – who was raised by Eastern European, Jewish parents who immigrated to the US in the late 1800’s and settled on the Lower East Side of New York. My grandfather was raised in a traditional, Jewish household. As he got older, he was, like most kids in his situation, Americanized. As an adult, he was by no means a practicing Jew. However, he carried with him the stories of the Old Country and life on the Lower East Side. I was lucky enough to hear those stories. They inspired me to learn more about who I was and where I came from. My grandfather and his stories gave me the ability to discover my connection to the Jewish world and started me on a path that would lead me to the rabbinate. I am forever grateful for my grandfather and the gifts he gave to me.
In his memory, I thought it was important to share a story that he loved to tell – a story that had nothing to do with the Old Country and the Lower East Side. This story was about a young secretary who briefly worked for him in the early 1960’s at his advertising agency in Manhattan. According to my grandfather, this secretary had a very breathy voice, wore a lot of eye makeup and was really not into the job. So, just days after she was hired, he fired her. And, soon after doing so, my grandfather turned on the Jack Paar Program (The Tonight Show) and who was on the screen singing her heart out? His former secretary – Barbra Streisand. This was Streisand’s first appearance on television, an appearance that helped to launch her spectacular career. My grandfather loved to say that if it wasn’t for him, Barbra Streisand wouldn’t have been unemployed and therefore, capable of appearing on television. He loved to tell folks that he changed Barbra Streisand’s life. While some might challenge this assertion, I am proof that my grandfather did indeed have the power to change lives. He changed mine and as Judaism teaches us, when you change just one life, you change the world.
Gramps, thanks for all that you gave me. Your gifts continue to define who I am. In her song “If I Could”, Barbra Streisand sings, “how I’d try to change the world I brought you to and there isn’t very much that I can do but I would if I could.” Barbra might not have been able to change the world – but you, Gramps, you did.

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