After a very long build-up, this speech takes a surprisingly nasty turn towards the end. Many other speeches over the decades allude to simmering resentments; this one comes out and says it to the man’s face… and that man is my great-grandfather! It’s hard to believe someone would level such criticism in public on such an occasion.
As with many speeches, this one is copied more than once in the synagogue’s record books; I believe the first version is from the late teens and the second version is from the 1930s. Significant changes are [noted throughout].
Dedication Banquet Speech
There is an old saying “Experience teaches”
Where we wish to reap benefit from the experience of others we study history, and apply the happenings of old to the needs of our age, and gain Knowledge from the achievements and failures of others.
Victor Hugo in his book [93 or] La Vendée 1 describing the revolutionary war of France of the year 1793 relates about a [certain] Marquis – who escaped from Paris on a battleship, and trying to reach the mountains of La Vendée of France encountered in mid ocean a terrific storm, one of the cannons on the ship broke from its mooring, and started to role (sic) around the deck the ship, the ship was rocking like a cradle, and when one side of the boat was lifted up high, by the waves of the ocean, the cannon would role (sic) down, like from a mountain the momentum of the cannon, breaking and tearing everything on the boat which happened to be in its way [path].
The men tried to stop the cannon, but who ever dared to come in its path was sure to forfeit his life, they were powerless and helpless, and sure destruction for the boat, and death for all thereon awaited them.
But the man whose duty it was to take care of the cannons, putting his life in jeopardy succeeded in stopping the cannon, after all was broken and ruined on the deck of the ship. The Marquis who was in command of the ship called that man, and told him “by your bravery you have saved the ship, we owe our lives to you, if not for you the cannon would have smashed the ship, and we all would have perished in mid ocean. Therefore for your bravery, I want to reward you. I ask you to kneel down, and I will honor you by decorating you with the emblem of the legion of honor.“
After the Marquis has given him this recognition for his heroism, he said, “It was your duty being in charge of the cannons to see that they are properly fastened, thro your neglect and carelessness the cannon got loos (sic), and created havoc and destruction on this boat, for your neglect of duty I am compelled to punish you, therefore I sentence you to be shot.” “Take this man and shoot him. Honor for your bravery. Punishment for your neglect of duty.“
We who are assembled here to day, we have to honor three [are here to honor those] who have so bravely and noble (sic) worked for this grand cause, which seemingly we have accomplished. We also are here to confer the honorary emblem, upon those who deserve to be recognized, and encouraged, to work in the future as they have done in the past. And right now let me tell you that we have one man in our midst who by his devotion, faithfulness and love for his religion and fellow man deserves all the honor we can confer upon him. I am unable to find words strong enough to express my thoughts and feeling for this man, who for the past 20 years has worked with might and main year in year out, day + night, always in the front line of battle not for the purpose of destruction, but for upbuilding. This man who has sacrificed his health and wealth for the great cause which Judaism represents. Thro his efforts more than to any one other man’s [person’s] is due the fact that we are enabled to celebrate this day as we are celebrating it now. This man is the one who is today at the head of the Cong. our Pres. Mr Jos Lasdusky. Honor to him for work well done.
But while we bestow this honor, it is also our duty to criticize, I don’t say to punish, for none deserve punishment. But criticism, friendly criticism not for destruction but for construction. 2 There is a vast difference between criticism and knocking. Criticism is honest + honorable meant for the benefit of all, knocking is for selfish purposes only, so when we offer criticism, do not construe it as offensive.
It is not the building Com. who done all the work, they have done part of the work [they have partly helpt, but] —
It was Pres Lasdusky who had to beg, plead and coax the Bldg Com. to start the work. They have reluctantly in a half hearted manner undertaken the work, and when they did start any suggestion by a member for improvement was met [by the Chairman] with the [a]
“steam roller. “
It is not the autocratic ruler who is beloved by his subjects, but he who rules with kindness and [, with] consideration, for the welfare of [all] his people, [he] who is the benefactor of all [his subjects]. [He is the one who is honored and respected.] Therefore I say, Honor to Pres Lasdusy for merits deserved. Criticism for the ∨Chairman 3 Bldg Com. [for the Chairman and the building Com.] also deserved.
Building Com for 10-Ave Synagogue
B. Hepps Chairman
Dr. MH Moss Secy
Jos Lasdusky Pres of Cong
Jos Katz Keystone
The book is called Quatrevingt-Treize (Ninety-Three). It covers the counter-revolutionary revolt in the Vendée, which must be how Grossman got confused in his original speech. He corrected himself when he copied the speech in the 1930s. ↩
This idea of criticism that is constructive and not destructive comes from the Leo N. Levi speech that forms the basis of Grossman’s address from cornerstone-laying. Of course, Levi didn’t then go on to publicly criticize anyone and insist it was praiseworthy of him to do so. “They do not demand praise or resent criticism,” Levi wrote of the members of his organization, “but they ask that criticism shall be constructive and not destructive; that it shall be offered in order to build up and not to tear down. This at least is their due.” ↩
In the original version, chairman is written directly below “for the” (click on image to see). The later version makes it clearer what was intended by the addition. ↩