Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Shortly before my retirement in 1985.

Part 26 (written 2004)

(Continued from previous week)

Eating had been a little problematic in the beginning since none of the Israeli soldiers were Orthodox and therefore were not concerned about the food handling. Although all food in the Israeli army is kosher, since meat and dairy were not kept separate upon arrival at our station, the group’s pots, pans and dishes could not be used by us.

Fortunately, they had a supply of new dishes still in the original packing, which we were able to use, taking out food from the original containers before the others helped themselves. They had no new pots or pans for us. From time to time, hot food would be delivered, and that would be the only time we could eat anything cooked, provided we could get hold of it before it entered the communal kitchen. We ate piles and piles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

On the last day of our stay in the Golan, the army gave us a wonderful goodbye party, with speeches, military band music and a parade of paratroopers. We returned to the US with happy and proud memories of having helped the people of Israel, which all are so dear to us.


In the spring of 1985, after having worked at PB for 36 years, long hours during the week, often a full day on Sunday, or even a few hours on Saturday night if there had been a Jewish holiday at the end of the previous week, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I saw in which direction PB was going. As a result, I notified management that I wanted to take early retirement at the end of that year.

I felt that we were entitled to a year off from all responsibilities. I include my wife, because it was also hard for her to have me gone all day, in addition to the days that I was far away on a business trip. So, 1986 became our year off. We traveled, we went shopping, we relaxed and for the first time in my life I found myself with leisure hours and nothing to fill them with. And I did not like it. When the year neared its end, I started to plan for the future.

I knew that I wanted to continue working, although not necessarily at a paying job. During my year off I already had been contacted by former business associates at PB, as well as others who wanted me to do consulting work for them in some of the areas in which I was known to have expertise. I started to seriously consider some of these proposals.

After a few weeks I began to accept those that I thought would be interesting and challenging.

The first one was from a former senior officer of PB who, after leaving PB, had, together with several other PB alumni, established his own business. Actually, this particular consultancy had little to do with either traffic or marine insurance but involved the financial supervision of an operation dealing in oil and oil products trading, physical as well as futures, located in Houston.

It involved huge sums of money, hedging, record keeping, etc. Although I was not part of the operation itself, I had to make sure that everything was done as required by management. When management later decided to close down the business, the residual work consisted of various pending arbitrations, court cases and other contractual or legal issues. At that point there were no employees involved anymore, and I, as consultant, handled everything. As it turned out, this, my first consultancy, also lasted the longest, ending only after the last settlement, in the year 2002.

For others clients, I handled several difficult marine insurance claims on complex liquid fuels, which in some instances required me to travel to Europe to negotiate with European insurance companies. Several times, I was a consultant to attorneys who needed an expert witness in the field of marine insurance. I never did have to testify in court, with all the cases being settled out of court before they came to trial.

Another time, I was engaged to manage the moving of a large corporation office (Philipp Brothers Chemicals Inc.) from New York to New Jersey, reporting directly to the chairman of the board. That certainly was far removed from either traffic or insurance, but it was interesting, different and a challenge.

Over the years, less and less interesting proposals came to my attention and I started looking around for something else. I had turned down several offers of paid positions in related fields because I appreciated the freedom and independence that consulting gave me.

During the time that I was looking around for a new activity, the marketing of diet supplements was the talk on everyone’s lips. The diet supplements came in powder form and had to be mixed with water in a shaker before being consumed, a real messy process, particularly if one was not in his or her own kitchen, but perhaps traveling. One diet-promoting company also offered to sell its customers a small battery-operated mixer, that they could use in any glass or cup.

I thought that was an idea to look into.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

 Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has volunteered at Englewood Hospital for over 30,000 hours. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.