Today, Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, is my father’s fifth yahrtzeit. My father, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, z”l, had the single greatest impact on my life, career and hashkafah—not to mention his impact on the world. Instead of reflecting on my story today, I’d like to share a little of his to honor his memory.
Many people are familiar with my father for his revolutionary work with ArtScroll, but very few know who he was in private. I had the privilege of seeing him through different eyes; he was a marketing genius, a great businessman and an even better father. I was fortunate to spend every Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Pesach with him and to join him on many of his trips to Israel, davening neitz at the Kosel. During these times, he taught me to have a fuller appreciation for Birkas Kohanim, explaining that it includes every blessing for both business and personal success.
At the end of his life, although he was incredibly honored to do the klal work that he did, his proudest accomplishment was his family.
Most people believe that it’s better to separate your business and personal lives, but my father firmly believed in bringing them together. He never shied away from hiring family members, and those he hired were treated like family. The advice he gave me about hedging the risk of hiring relatives was to make sure they agreed to two things: not to talk about the business with others, and that if they weren’t happy or it wasn’t working out, to quit and avoid being fired.
He repeatedly told me, “You can’t treat your family and business the same; they’re not. Nothing is more important than family.” I can still hear him saying it. Those words served as a great reminder to me and my wife while we were raising our family, and even now as we welcome grandchildren. My father understood how tempting it could be in busy times to overlook the relationships closest to you and focus on the loud demands of work. Just one more email…
True to everything my father did, he didn’t just talk the talk, he modeled it in his life. It didn’t matter if he was working; he still took our phone calls. If he was in a meeting, he answered our call to see if it was urgent and arranged to call back afterward. He prioritized us no matter where or with whom he was.
He was always supportive and influential in my career, but never more so than when I started Eastern Union. I will share more about this chapter of my life later, but it was a challenging time for me. I had walked away from my job, was investing in the business, and my finances were very tight. I moved out of New York City to cut down on living expenses. We couldn’t afford to keep our living quarters while we waited to close on our new house, so we moved in with my in-laws to save money.
I would have felt better if we were at least living paycheck to paycheck, but there were many times when I had to withdraw money with one credit card just to pay off another.
I have no doubt that my father would have given me every penny I needed if he could have. But he focused on spreading Torah through ArtScroll, not profiting from it. When he had extra money, he believed that Hashem had given it to him for a reason and that it should be put to good use. He also believed that before making any other investment, money should be put toward paying off one’s mortgage. While he couldn’t give me the money I needed for my business, he gave me what he did have—time and space, and he sometimes cosigned so that I could obtain funding in other ways.
His philosophy about fairness wasn’t about giving every child the same thing, but about giving every child what he or she needed. And if he could do that, he would go out of his way to make it happen.
On a side note, my father didn’t believe in parents buying their married kids flashy material things. Instead, he believed it would be better to give them money and let them buy the things they really needed. I owe much of what I’ve accomplished to that foresight. Of course, there’s a place for marketing and branding in business, and sometimes the “shiny” spend is more important. The rules for a family are different. It’s better to give your kids what they need instead of trendy items that are meant to earn favor in the eyes of others.
Eastern Union started in a cramped room at the ArtScroll office, the only space they had available. Less than a year later, ArtScroll finished construction on a beautiful new simchah room that could accommodate up to 50 people. My father wanted to support my growth and also pay it forward by helping provide work and experience to others, so he let us use their brand-new space for a summer internship. He had every excuse to say no since the hires would be a distraction to the rabbanim working there, plus he risked damage to the room. Not only did my father encourage me because his family came first, but he worked out creative ways for lunches to overlap so that the yeshivah kids could be inspired by meeting the rabbanim working on the translation of the Gemara.
Once we expanded to the simchah room in 2002, we launched our summer internship for telemarketing and had over 50 students participate. That internship enabled me to get Eastern Union running at full steam. Jeffery Zwick, one of the top real estate attorneys today, served as the manager that summer while he was in law school. Other attendees were Steven Vegh, a leading real estate broker (who was already winning awards back then), and Henry Stimler, now the top lender and executive managing director at Newmark.
People make the mistake of caring what the outside world thinks first and what family thinks second, but my father had it right. It should be the exact opposite. You have to know that your family is backing you. You need to do right by them. When you know you’re in good standing with your family, you can go into business with the confidence to conquer anything because you feel that support. In addition, when people inevitably go to your family to check on your character, you’ll have a glowing reference standing by.
During this same period, false accusations against me were made both in civil court and in beis din. Naturally, going to court is a messy and expensive process. I had several opportunities to settle for large amounts, and many people advised me to do so, but my father wouldn’t hear of it. He knew that people would see it as an admission of guilt; otherwise, why would I have settled? He wanted me to clear my name so that there would never be an “asterisk” on my reputation. Even though the loss of time and money was sizeable, he was determined to have me exonerated. Whenever there was a session, he took off from work and came—no exceptions. He even gave up business relationships to support me.
The happiest day for my father was when I was wholly vindicated in both civil court and beis din. All he cared about was clearing my name. The older I get, the more I realize how right he was. I am eternally grateful for his resolute leadership and the way he brought a family-first approach to everything he did.
My father is renowned today for his public work, but his true legacy started with who he was behind the scenes. He always told me that it’s the charity we do at home that is real.
At my father’s levayah, one of his grandsons, Aaron Morgenstern, said it best: “I don’t know how he had time to run ArtScroll; he was always taking care of his family.” λ
Yehi zichro baruch.