A Novi man recalls surviving tough times,
and feelings of good fortune,
during the holidays.
JILL DAVIDSON SKLAR STAFF WRITER
Above: Jack Pearlman
at age 16.
Jack Pearlman today:
He felt fortunate,
knowing he had a job.
ne scene from Jack Pearlman's
youth haunts him the most.
It was 1917, and the 17-
year-old self-described ruffi-
an was asked to help march
the soldiers off to war. As a
bugler for Michigan's only
Jewish Boy Scout troop, he
was proud to lend a hand
and eager to help his coun-
The heavy heat of the Sep-
tember afternoon hung like a wet
wool blanket when he arrived at
Navin Field, the former home of the De-
troit Tigers. There, he waited for the com-
pletion of the roll call for about 1,000
young men, some not much older than
In a pep rally-like atmosphere, he bu-
gled his way down Michigan Avenue to
Vernor Highway, leading the men to the
cavernous Michigan Central train station.
The sunshine beamed on the parade as peo-
But once in the now-abandoned station,
the mood changed.
"Sweethearts were saying good-bye and
parents were crying," he said. "It was a sad
"A lot of the soldiers left that day, but a
The High Holidays took on a different
meaning that year.
In past holiday seasons, Jack and his two
older brothers would head to the barber
"My mother worked a deal with the bar-
ber, three keppes for a quarter," he said.
"He wanted a dime for each head."
"A nickel savings was quite a deal," he
said. "My mother was so smart."
The holidays also meant the purchase
of a new suit and smelling salts; without
air conditioning and fans, some congre-
gants would pass out during services.
"Many people didn't make it through the
services. It was that hot," he said.
But even the new suit and the spiffy
haircut did nothing to cheer Jack in 1917.
At the time, he lived next door to an Or-
thodox shul on Montcalm, from which he
could hear the cantor practice for services.
Normally, the familiar melodies would lift
his spirits — Rosh Hashanah was around
In 1917 things were different.
"I figured I might be drafted and I was
kind of nervous," he said.
But that didn't happen. On Nov. 11, 1918,
he joined fellow Detroiters who crowded the
downtown streets to celebrate the newly
signed armistice. As the skies filled with
stunt fliers from Selfridge Field, he hap-
pily met up with others who banged pots
and pans in celebration of the war's end.
"It was quite a sight," he said.
Twelve years later, Jack Pearlman was
spared from another national tragedy.
It was the fall of 1929 and the winds of
despair were ushering in the change of sea-
sons. The High Holidays had just passed
when the stock market took a dive in Oc-
o.c10 m1_1_ _
tion spiraling into the worst economic de-
pression in the history of the country, cast
a pall over everyone.
Friends lost jobs and property. Some
were driven to the streets, selling apples
and pencils for income; others waited
in long lines for a few mouthfuls of
bread. A few who could not stand the pain
of loss hurled themselves from tall build-
"Most of the jobs disappeared and there
was no hope," he recalled. Banks were shut-
tered, forcing the payment of all city work-
ers with scrip, pieces of paper exchanged
for bread, gasoline and rent.
Mr. Pearlman, then married and the fa-
ther of an infant son, felt lucky going into
that High Holiday season. The month be-
fore the crash, he landed a full-time job
teaching shop class in the Detroit Public
"I was paid $1,700 a year and the home-
room teachers were paid $1,500. I took this
position because I figured I could earn a lit-
tle more," he said.
His rent for a house on Brush Street was
$50 a month, and he was able to save
enough for a used Pontiac, without the
"I was lucky. I was working for the city,
being paid in scrip," he said. "I could afford
to feed my family."
But he could .not afford to join a syna-
gogue. That year, he went to services spon-
sored by rabbis who rented a storefront and
charged $5 for admission. Still, there were
no fans and no air conditioning.
There was, however, a delicious meal of
meat and potatoes, gefilte fish, gribenes
(fried chicken fat) and compote waiting for
him when he came home.