My father, Nosson (Norman) Shine, did not have it easy growing up in a dirt poor neighborhood in the 1930’s and ‘40s in Memphis, TN. He worked in his father’s dry goods store on Thomas Street, and lived upstairs with his parents and his two sisters. He was the fastest runner on the track team at Humes High School. He had to be – as one of the only white kids, much less a Jewish kid. Elvis went there too, but my dad loved to say that he preceded him.
When he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he scored so highly on his test that he was one of only two candidates eligible for officer’s school. He had made friends with the company clerk, who gave him the option to choose FECOM or EUCOM – the Far East command – Korea, or the European command – West Germany. He asked the clerk, “What do you think?” We never did find out what happened to the other officer. Hashem was looking out for him even then. His artistic talents came in handy on the ship to sail home – drawing for the ship newsletter earned him better accommodations for the long journey at sea.
My father enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute on the GI Bill. His father was so disappointed that he nearly disowned him. His dad assumed that all artists were hippies. His job at the Chicago Tribune as staff artist gave him his first real taste of anti-Semitism. But he showed them by getting a better job with IBM. My dad created the in-house art and marketing department for their Midwest region in 1960. He was there for 10 years and received the customary gold watch. However he yet again suffered vicious prejudice even by the guys who had hired him, though not by the company itself.
My parents got married in 1963. My mother was only 21, and my father was 33. She convinced him to give up a secure career at IBM and move back to Memphis to start his own firm. Business Graphics Services had a great run until his accident in 1987. The open miracles that allowed him to survive that nearly fatal crash were incredible. My mom told the doctors with perfect, simple faith that he was going to survive despite all of their dire predictions because he was en-route from doing a mitzvah. The most significant fact to me about that event was that he had been listening to his beloved Rabbi Avigdor Miller tape while driving the car when he crashed. The number of that tape matched the number of his room at the hospital. After dad recovered, his doctors were asking, “What’s this mitzvah business?” He survived being hit by a car several years after that. Hashem had further plans for him.
When I started kindergarten my parents fought to get me into the Memphis Hebrew Academy, even though they were not yet religious. I am sure they feared sending us to public school during the aftermath of the shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, also in Memphis, a year and a half earlier. They had no money for tuition, but Rabbi Eliyahu Hartman made sure we got in. They eventually repaid every penny, and more. They were both very active in the school, including printing the annual yearbook.
Those were lean years as they worked to build the business together. But they never allowed us to miss out, from violin lessons to taking us to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Dad taught me how to play chess, but never well enough to beat him – except for that one time, ever.
My father was a true sportsman. A seaplane would drop him off in the wilds of Canada with only a canoe, a paddle, and fishing tackle. He caught fish as he drifted down the river. He was an expert marksman when hunting. His golf score was always in the high 70s, and he was the best bowler in the B’nai Birth league. I remember being woken up before sunrise so we could go fishing. We would drive very far into Mississippi or Arkansas to find the best pond or stream. He could name all of the various kinds of trees, animals, fish, and plants. He was a real outdoorsman, having been an Eagle Scout in his youth. He would use our car port at home to clean the fish, which I found distasteful. But then he’d cook them up and make a feast. There is nothing like freshly caught fish. He really had a knack for cooking, which has been passed down to the rest of my kids and even their children.
When my parents began learning with Rabbi Hillel Belsky at his Sunday night class, they had little idea that it would transform their lives. After my brother, Baruch, and I became religious, my parents followed. When I came back from my first year of learning in Jerusalem, I was surprised to find that my father was putting on tefillin each morning.
After Baruch and I moved to New York and got married, my parents felt it was important to be together with the family. My mom abandoned her plans to get her doctorate just so they could move here and be with us. My dad in particular was involved in every little part of our lives, from going to Chumash plays to driving carpool! Family was everything. My dad also walked away from a multi-million dollar inheritance just to preserve shalom bayis. He did not need money to be happy.
He was so dedicated to my mother. His entire day revolved around enabling her. He drove her to work, then returned home to cook and clean. He would then pick her up and bring her home to a freshly made dinner. My father never complained, never questioned. The gratitude he felt for every single day was contagious.
When I first became involved with the Jewish Community Council of Marine Park, they were trying to come up with ways to fund the fledgling organization, and to support Project Mazon (now called Project Machal). People rely on the food assistance program to help purchase groceries. I suggested that we make a BBQ, similar to the one first established in Memphis in the 1980’s. My dad was the sole surviving member of the original team that won that event. Not only did he attend, but he stayed up until 3:00 in the morning helping me to carry tables and chairs back to the gemach. At the time he was in his late 70’s. He remained fit his entire life. A few weeks before he died, he was pedaling on a stationary bike for ninety minutes straight! That reminds me of the time when my first cousin returned from two tours with the U.S. Marines in Okinawa, Japan. My cousin challenged my dad to a race. Even though my dad was well into his 40’s at the time, he beat my cousin easily.
Even after his brain injury, he was always upbeat and never lost his sense of humor. If asked, he was always “Doing well, now that you are here.” Everyone who knew him described what a gentleman he was; just a really great guy. It was a kiddush Hashem. Of course, he was a great guy even before he became frum.
My parents volunteered to work on the Yeshiva Derech Chaim Chinese auction every year. Their basement was filled with raffle tickets as they wrote out the names and numbers from pre-sales. They were called the dynamic duo when they were thanked in the booklet.
They made it onto a special list – whenever an envelope would come in the mail asking for tzedakah, they always mailed something back. Places they had never heard of would put them on their mailing lists because they were one of the rare contributors who always gave something to everyone.
I remember that my dad fed the birds all the time, not just one week a year. He stood at attention with his siddur open in his hands to follow along during every Chazaras Hashatz. His siddur is blackened where his fingers lovingly held each page. When he was still able to come to shul, he always came 30 minutes early, and an hour early to set up the tablecloths every Friday. He walked to the store to purchase milk for the coffee every other day as a way to enable the daily shiur.
My parents were steeped in chessed. When the iron curtain fell and the Memphis Federation asked for volunteers to host Russian immigrants, they adopted a few families. My father offered a job in his printing company and invited the families to spend Shabbos. He once had to explain that stealing from the office was stealing from him, and not from the government. But he did it gently, and did not get upset or fire anyone. Two of the Russian boys got their brisos as teenagers. At the shiva, one of them, Dimitriy, had just come in from Israel. He said he did not understand why my father was so happy that he got a circumcision. He related another story where he once called my father out of the blue, a few years after my parents had moved to New York. He was being flown into town to interview at Solomon Brothers at the World Trade Center. He asked my father if it would be ok to come to Brooklyn to say hello. My father said no. He said I will come to pick you up at the airport, and you will stay at my house. I will take you to the interview. When he drove Dimitriy into Manhattan, he said he would be there to drive him home as well. Dimitriy told him not to wait, as the interview would take one to two hours. My dad told him not to worry, that he would be there when he was done. They interviewed him for six hours. When he came out, my father was still waiting for him. He couldn’t believe it. He confided that he did not think he would get the job because 1000 people applied for only five positions. My dad told him not to be concerned. He said, “I spoke to the secretary. If they keep you for that long, you will get hired.” It was a few weeks later when he got the call that he had been chosen. He told me, “Norman believed in me before I believed in myself.”
People would drive across the country and stop at our home on their way. They always knew they could find a kosher meal and a place to sleep, even without notice.
My dad was such an erudite writer. Over 65 of his letters were published in papers like the New York Times, The New York Post, the Jewish Press, Hamodia, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and others. He was fearless in his attacks on people or events which were morally repugnant. The editors loved getting his letters because they were so well- crafted and thought out.
We were so lucky to merit having him live with us during his final years. It was such a privilege to make his breakfast every morning. He always expressed sincere gratitude to me, and made sure to eat every bite, even if it took two hours. He had little to no appetite, but that did not prevent him from eating it all.
In an incredible twist, my son had a boy on Shabbos Nachamu, while I was still sitting shiva for my father. At the bris he was named for my dad, which is an incredible comfort to our entire family. I was so grateful to be the sandak.
My dad lived such a full and exciting life, yet his greatest treasure was his family. We all felt his love and warmth, and we will miss his genuine smile so much. I admire him for the example he set, and I hope that I can emulate that as I move on and carry his spirit in my heart. May he continue to fight by the kisei hakavod as an emissary for his family, his community, and his nation which he loved so deeply..