By Yang Dong-hee
“Have as many children as you can. Having many children around you when you are old will definitely make you happy. ”
This was the first tip I got from a Jewish banker based in Seoul upon my marriage in 1979, when I was working at the economic desk for an English daily.
As having one or, at most, two children was a general tendency among Korean newly-weds at that time, this marital tip from a foreigner sounded fresh to me.
Remembering his sincere aice after more than three decades, when I am over 60 now and having two daughters and one son mdash all grown up right and not all “around” me though mdash I can safely say that having three children around is definitely my source of happiness.
When I arrived in New York in September 1981, I met with professor Donald S Zagoria, who accepted me as a graduate student at the City University Graduate Center (I was admitted to the Ph. D program thanks to the last minute recommendation from Dr Hahn Seung-joo of Korea University).
Prof. Zagoria, now senior vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, was already a noted Jewish-American political scientist for the Northeast Asian policy of the United States.
He was teaching “Soviet Foreign Policy” every Thursday evening, while I was working at the Hankook Ilbo New York during the day.
I became acquainted with one quite old gentleman in the classroom He was a retired lawyer and looked well over 80.
His name was Maxwell Cohen. I instantly knew by his last name that he was a Jewish-American.
Alarmingly enough, he was a legal aisor to Dr Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea As a young lawyer, Cohen met Dr Rhee two years after Rhee met an Austrian woman, Franziska Donner, in 1933 at the League of Nations Conference in Geneva They got married in 1934 in New York.
Cohen invited me and my wife to a dinner at his apartment in Washington Heights, the upperwest side of Manhattan.
He was living with his only daughter, who was beautiful and unmarried in order to take good care of her father She was teaching the history of fine arts at Columbia University, where she got her law degree.
He brought me an old book titled “Japan Inside Out” mdash the first print of the rare book published in the summer of 1941, about five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and the consequent Pacific War
In that book, which he had kept for nearly 40 years before giving me as a gift, Rhee predicted that Japan would surely attack the United States in the near future by using naval force. The book was full of the keen insight about the Japanese imperial power
Cohen said Rhee tried very hard to convince President Franklin D Roosevelt and the United States Department of State to approve the existence of Korean provisional government by using the name of Korean Commission to America and Europe. Cohen also said he and Franziska were leading a very frugal life in the second floor of the KCAE building in Washington, DC
Cohen joined Rhee when he cooperated with anti-Japan strategies conducted by the Office of Strategic Service (OSS). He recollected proudly upon his many undercover OSS activities in China during the last several years before the end of the war
“Regarded as an anti-Communist and a strongman, with an MA degree at Harvard and Ph.D at Princeton, Rhee was such an angry man. He just could not stand any arrogant attitude of white men mdash be it at the State Department or at the White House,” recollected Cohen when asked about Rhee’s personality.
My months-long interviews with Cohen were printed on the Dec. 7, 1981, issue of the Hankook Ilbo as a full-page scoop, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor
What I learned from my meetings with Cohen was mdash more than discovering an unknown-but-important figure in Korean political history mdash the Jewish wisdom that I still remember
In the class-room, Cohen seemed to prefer to listen, rather than to speak. I asked him about this. He replied with smile, “We Jewish say there are seven virtues we must remember to be a wise man. On top of the list is this: When you are with someone you think who knows better than you, just listen. ”
He also suggested me to study “something with teeth that can bite the reality” while I am still young, which he meant to be lawyers, CPAs or, MBAs. Upon hearing the difficulty of saving money to begin with, he said I would be able to start with OPM. OPM?? He said it’s “other people’s money.”
“To start with your own savings, it’s only a mom-and-pop store. But, you can start a business corporation with OPM.” A few months later, by chance I noticed a sign for a Broadway musical titled “OPM. ”
Upon being asked to give me some more Jewish tips, he said, “Firstly, we travel a mile for a penny.” So simple. Keeping this popular Jewish proverb in my mind, I drove around from Pittsburg to Philadelphia and from Albany to Atlantic City to find news sources, and sometimes, to sell ads in my paper
The second golden rule of the Jewish merchants was: “Collect money as early as possible, and pay back at the latest possible date.” Confronting it may be, but I saw an amusing Jewish wisdom
The writer, former reporter of The Korea Times, worked 10 years at the Hankook Ilbo New York and returned home to be in sports marketing and show business. He was the first managing director of the Korea branch of the US-based International Management Group. e can be reached at dhyang28@gmail. com
SOURCE: The Korea Times