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Thankful to the End

It was going to be difficult to convey a comprehensive portrait of Marvin Schick


Writing in this week’s issue about Dr. Marvin Schick a”h — whose shloshim is being marked on 30 Iyar — was quite a challenging assignment. In a 2013 profile of Rav Mordechai Elefant, rosh yeshivah of ITRI, I wrote: “ ‘Larger than life’ is a term used to describe unusually colorful personalities, exuding vitality and humor, brimming with ideas and projects. And then there are the individuals whose personas are even larger than that.”

I’d say that applies quite well to Marvin Schick too.

From the outset, it was clear that it was going to be difficult to convey a comprehensive portrait of not just the public Dr. Schick, his life’s mission and manifold accomplishments in fulfillment of it, but of the private man as well, his unique personality and character traits. So I didn’t even try.

Instead, I focused the piece on the area in which so many of his achievements came and where he spent most of his unbounded energy and wealth of talents — Jewish education (and quite appropriate for Shavuos-time reading). Even then, I’ve only provided an overview of his involvements, not delving too deeply into his vision and strong beliefs. In these lines, I’ll just elaborate a bit on some things the piece touched upon, but I suspect I’ll have lots more to say about Marvin Schick in the future — and to share from things he had to say about us.

I mentioned his sense of hakaras hatov, and the fact that he’d handwrite thank-you notes to every supporter, bar none, of the mosdos he led. In a time when writing of any kind has been virtually written off — I await the approaching day when pens and pencils will appear behind glass in museums, beheld in wonder by visiting grade schoolers — Marvin Schick invested thousands of hours in writing notes and correspondence, conveying with eloquent silence his feelings for their recipients.

He remained untutored, by design, in the use of technological gadgets, writing in one column, “I have never touched a computer, despite the accusation of my youngest that I once damaged hers by trying to turn it on. These columns and other writing are drafted and redrafted by pencil on yellow-lined paper.” Another anomaly was that he didn’t drive a car; my wife, a Boro Park native, recalls the recurrent scene of Dr. Schick walking past her house, bulging briefcase in hand, on his way to the station for the Manhattan-bound B train. Mrs. Malka Schick, longtime 12th-grade English teacher at Boro Park’s Bais Yaakov High School, remarked to me that although her husband didn’t drive, “he had the world’s best sense of direction.” And the Jewish world is better off as a result.

His middah of gratitude was blended with a strong streak of loyalty. There was an RJJ board member and supporter, a well-to-do attorney, who in his later years fell onto very hard times, losing his law practice and everything else he had. Marvin not only saw to it that this gentleman, destitute and alone, was given a place in a Jewish old-age home, but visited him there regularly and saw to it that he was well cared for. A former Edison talmid reports driving him on more than 50 such visits. Later on, Dr. Schick paid the tuition that enabled this man’s grandson to attend an out-of-town yeshivah high school. V’zocher chasdei avos u’meivee go’el livnei v’neihem.

He had another kind of loyalty, too, which for some can be more difficult to maintain, and that was to family. In a July 2009 column entitled “Allen Is 75!,” Marvin writes about his twin brother Allen, a highly regarded political science professor and expert on governmental budgeting. The two didn’t share a birthday though, since Marvin was born on July 3 shortly before midnight, while Allen was born 15 minutes later on July 4. They did, however, share some painfully difficult experiences in early childhood after their father’s sudden passing, and spent their adolescence and early adulthood attending the same schools.

Following are some excerpts from the piece, and Allen’s response to it, which reveal something of their relationship, and of the funny, yet self-deprecating side of Marvin Schick that those who knew him well got to see:

Allen entered this world on July 4th, the first of his many displays of one-upmanship. He has Independence Day all for himself.

Allen is celebrating the occasion in South Korea, advising the government not to spend more wons and chons than it takes in. I am in exotic Borough Park. The trip to Korea follows a stay in Israel that followed a trip to Russia and soon he will be again in Israel. He was also in Israel last month and then in Paris. He’s been nearly everywhere, including the Fiji Islands. Only once have we celebrated our birthdays on the same day, when he was in New Zealand on the other side of the International Dateline….

Allen was honored several years ago for lifetime achievements by a major association of American academics and scholars whose name I no longer remember. I’ve never been honored for anything, not even at camp when each kid was at least once the Shabbos Daddy or camper of the day. I have suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” compensating as Hamlet did by taking “arms against a sea of trouble.”

This isn’t a lament by a rival sibling. I am destined to be second in a two-man race. There’s this photo of us when we were two or three frolicking in a park with our father who died suddenly not long after it was taken. One of us is cute, the other petulant. Need I tell you who was cute?

When necessary, meaning all of the time, we’re fiercely loyal to each other. There’s a line in our Rabbi Jacob Joseph School high school yearbook reporting that a student started up with one of the Schick twins and his funeral took place later that day. At Brooklyn College, while trying to register for a political science class, the professor pulled out a note from his doctor saying that it would be detrimental to his health to have both Schick boys.

As I contemplate sharing this planet for three-quarters of a century minus fifteen minutes with my twin, I must be content with what Cervantes put into the mouth of Don Quixote, “Always go for the second prize, for it alone comes through merit.” There is a powerful bond between us that spans physical distance, a bond that grows stronger each year as we share so much….

To which Allen responded:

In his usually discreet manner, Marvin Schick informed the world that I have attained the age of 75. This is the only accurate statement in his column. The truth is that he has surpassed me in all regards, beginning at birth when he appeared (according to family mythology) 15 minutes before me. Since then, he has excelled in truly important matters, serving Klal Yisrael selflessly. I have admired his accomplishments, and bemoan that mine fall far short. But I have never envied him… When Marvin reached the age of 75 some days ago, I was about 8000 miles away. But my thoughts were entirely about him, wishing him many years serving the Jewish community and being the best twin anyone ever had.

Like so much else in his life, perhaps Dr. Schick’s trait of loyalty-laced gratitude was something he drew from his relationship with his life’s great influence, Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l and his rebbetzin, to whom he in turn remained ever grateful and fiercely faithful. Shortly after the Lakewood Rosh Yeshivah was niftar in 1962, the Rebbetzin sent Marvin a note of thanks, which began, “There are no words to express the feelings of hakaras hatov for all the chesed that you did with us….” It was signed, “With yedidus, Chana Perel Kotler.”

So precious was this piece of paper to Marvin Schick that he carried it with him every day of his life. And when he left the world just one month ago, it was in his pocket still.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 812. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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