I will admit I was disappointed. I was at the levayah for Eugen Gluck and many of the speakers representing the family spoke about how he would greet everyone with a huge embrace and made them feel that for the moment they were the most important person in the world. Whether this was an old friend or someone he was meeting for the first time, that welcome was his trademark… and genuinely offered. And here I was thinking that only I got such special treatment.
Every time I met him or spoke to him, it was with a huge hello and concluded with, “Say hello to Dad; you know how much I love him. And how is Peri doing?” I always felt like a million dollars when I talked to him. Even if it was for a few minutes. If it was about some political situation in Israel, I was glad to see we were on the same page. Or if it was about my career in the rabbinate. He exuded warmth, sincerity, and encouragement.
I was surprised to learn at the funeral that despite having Hungarian, non-chasidic roots as a child, he took it upon himself to develop a close relationship with the Satmar Rav, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, before the War, and remained close with the Eebbe throughout his life in the States. Not coincidentally, Mr. Gluck and the Satmar Rebbe share the same yahrzeit. So here you had this major Zionist philanthropist, builder of Israel, so close with the most ardent ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist leader. Not a problem for the true greats. Each recognized the wonderful attributes of the other. How often will you see that today?
Mr. Gluck started out modestly, owning a bakery in Crown Heights. When the unions began acting up, he decided to do something else. Despite living through the worst of the horrors in the Holocaust, including the killing of his parents and family, he somehow remained the eternal optimist. He landed a job working as a salesman for a watch company, but quickly understood that he will do far better if he started his own company. Eventually, he developed the E. Gluck Corporation, which produces the well-known affordable Armitron watches. The rest, as they say, is history.
As in his social life, he was beloved and loving in his business life, treating each employee like the valuable human being he or she is. Many of his employees were at the funeral to express their love for him. As mentioned by one of the speakers, at one time he was in conversation with an employee and the secretary interrupted by saying that Bibi Netanyahu was on the phone. “Tell him I’ll call him back. I’m at an important meeting right now,” was the response. Somebody was talking to him. All others will have to wait.
So many in our shul admired the very beloved Yankel (Jack) Nayberg a”h. He was a survivor, as well, who was a living legend of pre-World War II Europe. He was a truly special Jew. Yankel, who had limited formal education in the States, drove a car service for a living and, often enough, found himself driving Mr. Gluck. One day, Eugen said to Yankel, “Why not come work for me?” Incredulously, Yankel accepted the offer and proved to be invaluable in keeping inventory for the company. He was employed there for years until his health would no longer allow him to continue.
At the shiv’ah house, we were introduced to a young woman who has now risen to prominence in the Gluck company. She told us that basically she started as a girl out of high school with virtually no office skills in those days. Nonetheless, she decided to apply for a job. In the interview, Mr. Gluck asked her if she could type. No, was the answer. How about dictation? Also not. “Well, at least you’re honest. Come work for us!” It’s now about 30 years later, and she is still very much with the company. The stories go on and on.
My father and Eugen Gluck go back many years, decades. The Glucks joined the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills in the early 1960s and lived there until they eventually moved to their current home in Forest Hills Gardens. Eugen remained an active and generous benefactor of our Young Israel as he was appointed Chairman of the Board. He dedicated gracious ads in our yearly journal as well as his very kind response to the Kol Nidrei appeal. The Gluck family’s dramatic Holocaust memorial sculpture adorns the Mizrach wall of the shul for about 45 years and is a stark reminder never to forget.
My father’s last contact with Eugen was the Friday before he was niftar. They spoke over the phone as they did weekly. My father was not aware of the seriousness of Eugen’s condition, but he did say that he just did not sound his usual energetic self. The love they had for each other was due to many factors, mostly personal. But there was an interesting episode that cemented that relationship for life.
In the mid 1970s, due to the economic climate of the day, Mr. Gluck was having a serious time keeping his relatively new business afloat. Things did not bode well at all for his financial future. My father, devotee of the Gur chasidus that he is, offered to bring a kvitel, a note asking for the Rebbe’s blessing to the Gerrer Rebbe at the time, the Beis Yisroel. My father indeed went to the Rebbe during that period and presented him with the kvitel. He explained the nature of the business and its problems, as well as the nature of the man behind the business.
The Rebbe responded, quoting from Koheles (7:8): “Tov acharis davar mei’reishiso (the end of a matter is better than its beginning).” Don’t worry, the Rebbe assured: At the end, all will work out. Thank G-d, so it did. Almost immediately, Mr. Gluck saw a turnaround in the business and it blossomed like never before. Eugen remained eternally grateful to my father from that point on.
The Glucks parlayed their success into building communities in Israel, most notably Bet El and the religious broadcasting icon Arutz Sheva. Countless projects, including Hatzalah in our city, were beneficiaries of Jean and Eugen Gluck. At the levayah, a longtime friend of mine, David Schwartz, remarked to me that he often finds himself quoting Eugen, who said, “If a wealthy man does not give tz’dakah, then in reality he is poor.”
Eugen Gluck died a very rich man.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.