Stan Wortman a”h
I thought I should write something about my late father-in-law. In truth, I am pretty unqualified — me, a boy who grew up in the yeshiva system and never fully left the bubble, “Pop-pop” Stan Wortman, who in his heyday belonged to such biker clubs as the “Chai Riders” and “Hillel’s Angels”. Philanthropic clubs to be sure, but still… My father-in-law and I were from entirely different planets. And despite the warning of numerous books and a couple of sit-coms that show the hilarious results the ensue when aliens try to explain life on earth, I want to draw out a theme or two about Stan’s life.
On my planet, Rav Shimon Shkop writes about how the key to chessed, lovingkindness, is not the route of abnegation or self-denial. Rather, we find it easiest to give by developing our connections to other.
In Stan’s life, this same principle emerges. My father-in-law was the kind of guy more likely to buy a round of drinks than something for himself.
On a more weighty note, Stan Wortman was always a volunteer, always had a need to contribute to the community — he served in the navy (married my mother-in-law while stationed in Puerto Rico), he drove an ambulance in Amish country Lancaster, was a volunteer fire-fighter, ran support groups for men with cancer in two hospitals, chaplaincy in a hospital and for the Pennsylvania Penal System… He was active in the Freemasons and when he ascended to the 32nd degree, he was active in the Shriners and their hospitals.
Shuby, my 18 year old with Downs, is an incredible judge of character. He knows who is authentic, actually liking him, and who is nice to him as an act of kindness. I can’t ask Shuby what he found in Pop-pop Stan, but they were particularly close.
(Although not as close as Rafi, who was his nurse for the nearly two years Stan lived in our home.)
Stan went with Shuby and Siggy when they spent a week in Kansas getting Mason, Shuby’s service dog. He went with Siggy, Noa and Shuby to cheer Gavi on when she raced for Chai Lifeline in Florida. And he went with us to Israel, the summer of the triplet boys’ bar mitzvah. And every time, he and Shuby were inseparable. Shuby sitting it out with Stan whenever the activity was beyond my father-in-law’s mobility.
They warn tourists when you go to the Kotel not to take out your wallet. Once the sharks smell blood in the water, you will be swamped with the impoverished and the supposedly impoverished asking for handouts. And if the shnorers see the money and figure they could get more, there will be some aggressiveness.
No one gave Stan that warning. And we still have the pictures of a smiling Pop-pop Stan, surrounded by needy people aggressively demanding more. Handing out sheqalim until his walled was empty. And the truth is, the warning wouldn’t have mattered — Stan would have given out his money either way.
Both talmuds quote Rabbi Elazar telling us to “ be grateful to the charlatans, for were it not for them we would sin every day”. The only pardoning grace for not giving charity to everyone who comes and asks is that some of them may be cheaters.
For Stan, that lesson was reinforced by his Freemasonry. If someone came asking for charity, he said yes. I saw him keep a roll of dollar coins in his pocket or a second bill-fold, to make sure he didn’t spend all the money he had on him. That there would always be some money on hand if someone else needed it.
There is a hole in the world where Stan was. It would be a kindness for the world, and a comfort to his soul, if anyone would choose to emulate this generous attitude. That when someone asks for money, you never say no — and planning ahead to make sure you never have to.
שמואל חיים בן משה ע“ה
תהא נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים