Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Herbert Greenhut - RIP

By the time I got to the office, I was already late. On top of that, a stubborn cold and lingering bitterness over Sunday's Giant loss at the New Meadowlands, had put me in no good mood for the demands of yet another work day.

But my concerns and complaints were soon petty once I opened my email to discover a former Part Time Faculty member, and friend, Herbert Greenhut, died on December 16th. "As were his wishes, there was no funeral service, no death notice and no memorial. He left his body to Albert Einstein College. He was born January 11, 1927." Admittedly, this news was nothing shocking. Herb had called me three weeks ago and left a message: "Nick? This is Herb. The doctors say I have about two weeks to live... Just thought you might like to know. If you want to call me, I'm here..."

Now, Herb isn't here and I never did return that phone call. But what does one say to someone with a week or so to live? No sense in idle talk or chit-chat; fortunately, Herb was never one to entertain such practice either. Sure, he would talk (...and talk a lot), but it was always about the real things: he told you what was on his mind and exactly how he felt. Admittedly, his observations and opinions were not always what you wanted to hear. In fact, most of the time his comments were downright grim. But, that's life, right?...not always pleasant.

I suppose a part of me feels like a bastard for not calling Herb back when I had the chance. But I know he'd understand - I'm a busy guy and only have (like he did...) one life to live. Of course, if it's any consultation, I can recall back to the good times. Like the time a crew of us all went to see "Public Enemies" at the movies. It was nice to watch that film with someone who could actually remember hearing about John Dillinger on the radio.

I also recalled back to those last few visits with him this summer and fall at his apartment on the Upper East Side. By then, Herb was unable to leave his home. Old age had crept-in to make it extremely difficult for the old man to even make it to the corner. Food was no longer served as a solid. I would like to say Herb sat peacefully in his easy chair reading from his many piles of books (some so tall, I warned him about the danger of a pile falling on top of him), listening to music, or watching films. But, this would be an incorrect recollection. Honestly, every time I visited Herb, he was determined to "teach again." He would think of ways to get to school. If only he could get in front of class again. He was very annoyed with the physical restraints that had immobilized his failing body.

Herb's life was fully inspired by teaching. Without it, he just didn't care. Even when his health restrictions made it almost impossible to come to class - he pressed on. (At one point his students at the 92/y had to call the ambulance, because Professor Greenhut had only an hour before stumbled and was scalded in his own shower.) Herb was in and out of the hospital, but never missed a week of class (despite doctor's orders), nor, to properly correct and comment-on his many student's work. Herb Greenhut always said he wanted to "die teaching." Sure, he may not have croaked right there in front of the class, but there were days when I thought he might come pretty close. Professor Greenhut made it his life's mission to teach and for this, I think it's significant to take a moment and honor him for that quality.

Although it was admittedly difficult to see Herb so weak in those final months, I didn't want the reality of his imminent death to taint all our conversation. Unfortunately, he would invariably digress over the gory details associated with his demise. In fact, moments like this made it difficult to even want to see him. After all, the human has a natural aversion to death - we don't like to see it, for real - only sensationalized on TV. However, that is not the reality of death. Death is more commonly experienced as slow and painful. Needless to say, I'd always try to direct our conversation back to brighter times. Sure, I had only ever known Herb as an "old timer", but I also knew that at some point, he was as young and energetic as myself. Why not talk about the times in Herb's life, when he was proud?

When I first met Herb Greenhut in 2005, he had already been a professor of American History and popular culture at the New School since 1991. Before that, Herb had a long history of teaching in public schools, synagogues, and cultural centers. Herb would always walk into our office and say something like, "Good afternoon, I'm here to see Osama Bin Laden." (...or "John Dillinger", or "Bernie Madoff", etc.) Yeah, his humor was dark, but the smiles that came afterwards were always bright. Herb would stand stern-faced and serious, until someone started laughing, then he'd take "his" seat and proceed to talk politics and opine about the news of the day.

Herb's visits became (much to the dismay of upper administrators) routine. Of course, Herb came from "a different University." Perhaps there was a time when a professor's visits and conversations were actually the routine? After all, Herb's University existed before most of the administrators had even started here. Herb's University was also one without computers, smoking lounges - definitely, but no PCs! Herb was most certainly an "old school" New York, Jewish, liberal. He even volunteered hours of his week teaching classes at senior homes. Thus, despite the demands of my own schedule, I always tried to make some time to listen and talk with Professor Greenhut. (Respect for the elders.) Also, I have admiration for old dudes like him - I always respect the way Herb never seemed to bullshit. Maybe he came from a different -more direct- time? Or, maybe it was just that when you don't have anything left to lose, who cares what others think about what you say? I think Herb never considered the University an "office" but as the best place to discuss and debate the issues of the day.

Herb Greenhut was a dedicated professor and always straight-forward in his communication. He cared about his job and students more than anything else. I will miss hearing his stories from the Depression, World War II and (my favorite) the sixties. In a world so full of bullshit, it's a shame we're now deprived of one less voice that always got to the point.

Peace out Herb.

18 comments:

CMannoia said...

I am devastated; I met Herb in 1973 at the Bronx House Community Center, and he was my teacher, mentor, and friend for many years; he knew my parents, family, and he knew my inner soul.

He was a giant of a man; he was a giant of an educator; he taught me to love learning, reading, and to love life itself.

For a time, he was my father, brother, and closest confidante; I don't know what to say today.

I spent my whole life in the military service of this country; I lived my whole life away from my home town of New York City, and yet Herb was with me always.

I wish I knew where he was in his final days; I wish I could have comforted him, sat with him, and gave him back the strength he gave me when I was a boy.

He touched so many lives; he touched our future; I (and many, many others) will be less without him.

Christopher W. Mannoia

Josh said...

I'd known Herb since 1971; he taught me in the 7th and 9th grades at Wagner Junior High, and also at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. I saw him six days a week.

Some have suggested he was a father figure to me, and I suppose there is some truth to that, though I think he'd prefer to have been more of a crazy uncle.

He meant more to me than I could possibly write here. I was in sporadic contact with him after high school, and spoke with him quite often during his final months. I visited him (along with some other former students) two days before he passed. He was ready to go, and my experiences with him over those last few months were similar to what's in the blog post.

He was more than just the best teacher I ever had. He was an extraordinary man and I will miss him very much.

David said...

Yes, one of the great teachers,and already a legend at Wagner Junior High School in the mid-1960s when I was in his classes. He taught there 1954-1990!!

He taught history every day, and very well, but after school there were all those clubs and special events: the All Sports Club (my favorite), the Chess Club, the "Cleodon" History Club and annual History Quiz competition, the annual Washington DC trip, the Ramblers travel club, Photo Club, and probably others too.

It was a delight to see Herb at our Wagner Reunion in July 2001 in Riverside Park. During that event, when he heard that I was working at a seniors program called Project FIND, Herb offered to put together a history course for the residents and day-center clients. But his course would be built around recordings of the music of the day... Civil War tunes, tin pan alley, swing, etc. He built a 6-session course that embraced popular culture and the world at large. It was fantastic, and he refused to accept any payment.

Rest in peace, Herb Greenhut. I am just one of the many thousands to have been moved and educated by your energy and passion for lifelong learning.

David Calvert
Wagner JHS, Class of 1968

Lnr533 said...

Herb Greenhut was an amazing human being!! He taught me how to think, how to write concisely and I loved his nickname for me: Nuf Said" a pun on my last name of Neff and the fact that I loved to talk. He sent all of us to the Metropolitan Museum to learn about primary sources. He was a wonderful role model who differentiated instruction for his kinesthetic learners long before they became the buzz words they are today. I'm a teacher today because of his influence and I teach to accomodate my kinesthetic learners by building in movement and music with everything we do. I will cherish the pictures I have from our 2001 reunion and will remember fondly how he took a busload of junior high students to Montreal for Expo 67. Thanks Herb for making me who I am, today.

Laurie Schlichter AKA "Nuf Said"

Anonymous said...

Herbert Greenhut was the most influential teacher I ever had. He was my introduction, from day one, to scholarly thinking, as opposed to the rote textbook memorization I had only known till then. I looked forward so much to working in the Wagner JHS darkroom as a member of the Photography Club, and absolutely loved the trip to Washington, D.C. I am glad I got to see him one last time shortly before his passing.

Chester Gittleman

jnrollins said...

Mr. Greenhut was my seventh grade social studies teacher from 1965-66, and an influential teacher for my remaining years at Wagner Junior High. Mr. Greenhut took our class on a field trip to the Metropolitan's Egyptian wing in 1965. He told us to identify an item of interest without reading the identifying tag, to observe the item in detail, and speculate about what the Egyptian who made and used that item must have been like based on what we saw. I chose a pectoral, and remember writing about both the individual who made it and what it meant in terms of gold mining/smelting and the making of fine cylindrical lapis lazuli beads, and what it implied about the social class of the wearer. This was also my first introduction to scholarly, critical thinking rather than rote memorization. I am in tears now because I only took the time to thank him for his inspirational teaching methods by sending him a letter when I heard he was ill – on December 15 – and now know that he never saw it.

Jane Neff Rollins
La Crescenta, CA

Manny Rosen said...

I graduated Wagner in 1976. Herb was such a great man, that even so many years later, it is experienced as a tragic loss for the world. At least he lived the life he chose to the fullest and for so long.

Reuben Jenkins said...

I am in tears. I have not heard the name Herb Greenhut in 35 years. As I look at the posted photo of the man with the slightly askew tie, the large glasses, the worn blazer, and wry smile, I only see the man whose passion for knowledge and critical thinking shaped my life. He was a titan.

Thank you Mr. Greenhut. I am a better man for knowing you.


Reuben K. Jenkins
Wagner JHS Class of 1976

Russell Albert said...

Everything I learned about Social Studies, Washington DC, chess, and photography in my youth I learned from Herb. I am 100% convinced that he helped shaped my slightly askew view of the world and my sense of humor and for that I am eternally grateful to him. I wish my children could only have a teacher and mentor like him.

Larry Melniker said...

In October, a small group of us were reminiscing about Wagner Junior High School and, of course, the conversation turned to Herb Greenhut. Where was he? Was he still with us?.
Its strange to read Nick's comments and see his salutatory reference to "Professor Greenhut." Not that he did not deserve it, but for most of us the good professor was the first teacher we ever had we called by his first name - he was simply "Herb" and we loved him. We did not realize until much later, we were in the presence of greatness - a giant.
His body may have failed him, but he was brillant to the end. He quietly left us and gave his body to a medical school - no funeral, no memorial service, no death notice. Had his death been announced and had the word been spread of a memorial, no temple or synagogue or funeral home or auditorium would have been big enough to hold all the fans of Herb Greenhut.
We have always missed Herb and now can only hope our own children benefit from such greatness in their educations.
Larry Melniker, Wagner - Class of 1975

Brian Sands said...

Greetings from a Wagner JHS alum

In September, through a musical project I’ve been involved with, I met David Krakauer (Wagner class of 1971), an esteemed clarinetist. He is working with Mohammed Fairouz, a young up and coming composer, on a new piece of music to be debuted later this year. I am proposing that it be dedicated to Mr. Greenhut’s memory.

The original commissioning fee was $10,000 but Mr. Fairouz has agreed to reduce this fee to $5,000 so the piece can go ahead to honor Mr. Greenhut. $2,000 has been pledged so far and I am hoping that there may be other Wagner alums whose lives were touched by Mr. Greenhut to come up with the other $3,000.

I am hoping that there are others who wish to support this project. I had originally thought this could be done through Kickstarter ( http://www.kickstarter.com/ ), but time is of the essence as you can see from the note below, and I’m hoping to find a few people who are willing to pledge $250-$1,000 to complete financing for this project.

Here are the relevant sites you may wish to check out for further info regarding the people involved with this:

Composer--Mohammed Fairouz, www.mohammedfairouz.com
Clarinetist for whom this will be composed--David Krakauer (Wagner class of 1971), www.davidkrakauer.com and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Krakauer

According to David's manager, this project will explore the idioms of Arabic and Jewish dialogue through the shared heritage of the clarinet, which will make this work extremely compelling to the orchestral world. As Mr. Fairouz envisions it, the work will expand upon Arabic Maquam writing as well as Jewish Klezmer idioms to form a song of harmony without words between the peoples of the Middle East. It is our intention to present the first segment of this work in June 2011 at Merkin Concert Hall.

As for the time constraints, she writes:

Mr. Fairouz is in residence with the orchestra "Ensemble 212" just for the year. If he is able to present the first movement of the concerto he wishes to compose for Mr. Krakauer by early June, the orchestra will assume the costs of paying the musicians, paying Mr. Krakauer’s fee, and there will also be a demo recording made that we would be allowed to use to promote the work. As I’m sure you are aware, all of this would otherwise cost an enormous sum of money. And because of union restrictions, it is virtually impossible to make use of recordings of performances with orchestras. Unfortunately, that is the last date when Mr. Fairouz can take advantage of that possibility in that his residency will be over subsequently. In order to have the time to compose the work and get it to Mr. Krakauer by April 1st so that he has the time to rehearse it for the performance, Mr. Fairouz would need to know that the funding is in place by the end of January at the latest.


I spoke to the current principal of Wagner, Jennifer Rehn Losquadro, yesterday. She was very enthusiastic about this project and said that if it goes ahead, perhaps the piece could be performed at Wagner which would be a fitting tribute to Mr. Greenhut.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me, either via Facebook or email ( bsnola@hotmail.com ).

Sincerely,
Brian Sands
New Orleans, LA (formerly of East 74 Street and 2nd Avenue)

Dorothy Waters Ellison said...

Herb Greenhut was simply one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever been blessed to know. He appreciated excellence in all of it's forms. Herb loved teaching and was fiercely dedicated to his students. I was blessed to know him when I was a student at Wagner JHS in the mid 1970's. Any club that was run by Herb was a club that I wanted to belong to. I loved the Chess club and the Photography Club. I remember when he brought the Photography Club to Roosevelt Island just after the tramway had been opened. I still have pictures of he and Danny and Chris - all with silly grins on their faces. Every trip, every club meeting and every class was an adventure with Herb. He pushed you to go beyond the status quo. He absolutely demanded that you strive to realize your full potential and that you come to your own conclusions based on your own research and life experiences. I was honored to be allowed to chaperone the Washington D.C. trip with him, a few times, after I had graduated. Those were some of the happiest memories I have. Herb had an incredible sense of humor and I don't know if I have ever laughed harder than when I was on those trips with him. The last time that I was invited to chaperone, I let him down. The night before the trip, I called him and cancelled and I left him in a terrible position. For years I have been ashamed of myself for that decision. I tried to find Herb to make amends to him, but his old telephone number on Pelham Bay Pkwy was no longer in service. Tonight, I was googling some names from my past and I came upon this blog. I am heartbroken that such a brilliant and talented man is lost to this world. Knowing Herb enriched my life and changed me forever. I loved that man and I am so sorry that I ever let him down. I wish that I had found a way to get in touch with him. I know that he would have found a way to chastise me with humor and then forgive me with love. I will pray for Herb tonight and I will try to honor him by living my life with integrity, love for others and humor. Rest in peace dear man - you lived your life well - thank you so much.

Brian Sands said...

Mohammed Fairouz's "Tahrir for Clarinet & Orchestra" will be given its World Premiere by Ensemble 212 at its 3rd Annual Gala Concert on Thursday June 9, 2011 at 8:00pm at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center (129 W. 67 St., NYC)

The work is dedicated to the memory of Herb Greenhut and was commissioned by a group of Wagner alumni. It will feature clarinetist David Krakauer, also a Wagner alum.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at http://www.ensemble212.org/

QueenMalley said...

I weep at this news. I was one of the lucky ones to take two of Herb's classes at The New School. In fact, I was one of his last students. His health was failing during the second half of his last semester with us, and then The New School removed him. I organized a writing campaign to keep him with us. But he was just too ill. I learned more from Herb than just about any professor. He loved his students and tirelessly answered each email, online post, and question. God Speed, Herb. You made a difference. (And thank you for the writer's tribute on this blog). Barb Teed

jjdaddyo said...

The internet is a strange place. I was sitting around avoiding work and suddenly a thought pops into my head: "I wonder what ever happened to Mr. Greenhut from Wagner?" So, ten seconds later, here I am.
I went to Wagner from 74-76 (howdy to Manny Rosen and Rueben, who left comments above) and Mr. Greenhut was my favorite teacher. I also belonged to the photo club which he ran. It makes me very sad to hear of his death, but I am very happy that he seems to have spent his whole life doing what he loved, and that he seems to have influenced so many people over his career. I know I always looked forward to History class. I can still picture, 35 years later, the timeline of the American Revolution that he drew on the blackboard.
He was truly gifted at teaching and generous with his gift.

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Alex M said...

Nick,
Thank you for writing this up. I lived in the apartment below Herb and got to know him in what turned out to be his last few months. He called on me for help a few times or I'd hear a loud thud of him falling and I would race up the stairs to his apartment to see if he's ok. Then we'd chat for a while, a long while. He would call me in the night or when I was away for the weekend. It got to be pretty demanding but I couldn't fault the guy, as you accurately describe he was battling old age and doing it with little help from anyone else. He did have a very dark sense of humor but he was a very nice old man who was grateful when I lent him a hand or if I came to check on him and spoke with him for a few minutes. I moved in the fall of 2010 and after a few months Herb stopped calling. At least now I don't have to wonder what happened to him. May he rest in peace. He was a kind man and I am glad I met him.

Anonymous said...

Nick,
I am apparently 2.5 years late in this news cycle and crying like a baby as I write this. Mr. G was my Wagner Jr. High history teacher for 7th, 8th & 9th grades. I was living with my mother (a single working parent)in a place I hated having been re-routed to NYC after a divorce which separated me from both my brother and father. Yes I had fantasies about my mother marrying Mr. Greenhut so he could be my new father. Mr. G was NOT an easy teacher; in 7th grade we did full length research reports with precise footnotes. I still have my self-created "Mesopotamia Times" newspaper typed on bumpy (cockle-finish) onion-skin, tea-stained, typing paper. Mr G was light years ahead of other teachers in teaching & learning methodologies (experiential,thematic, portfolio assessment, and more). Most importantly he understood that no learning takes place without making an emotional connection. I too went on the Washington DC trip and many other Mr. G field trips. His office was always filled with lounging "Chess Club" students. On some level I knew then that these students were from troubled homes because they were the "tough" kids. Today I have a Master's Degree in school counseling (yes-started a Chess Club also)and have a strong focus in Resiliency Theory (esp how to foster greater resiliency in school settings). I did all this without really realizing exactly why, until now. I never forgot Mr. G and knew that he inspired my fascination with educational reform but I had completely forgotten about the Chess Club & Photo Club. It's not about chess or photos but something much more...
Wagner JH 1970 graduate