Smiling At Sol

A lot has been written about Sol Teichman. Here was a guy, who not only survived the Holocaust, but also managed to start a new life in the United States after showing up penniless, and building himself a massively successful business. While that’s impressive, that has happened to many Holocaust survivors. I think there was even a study done about how risk averse many of them are. “You think this scares me? Take a guess what I’ve been through,” probably goes through many of the heads of Survivors when taking a risk in starting a new business. But that’s not what made Sol unique, at least not to me.

Sol happened to go to my synagogue when on “this side of town” as we would say. He lives in the Valley but often spends Shabbat in the city side of Los Angeles with his sons Alan and or Dubi along with his grandkids, who live in my neighborhood. All three of them sit near me, and to give you an idea of the kind of person Sol is, I’ve basically lost count of the amount of times Alan and his wife Dorit have invited me over for meals, and Dubi just recently got me out of a giant quarantine mess in Israel when he had absolutely no reason to do so. When the lockdown first started in L.A., Alan called me out of the blue, twice, just to check in and see how I was doing. No one else did. They are two of the nicest guys you will ever meet, along with the rest of the family. Sol’s wife Ruth served in the Israeli Army and we schmooze in Hebrew whenever I bump into her. She is one of the friendliest people around and makes you feel like she’s your grandma too. You don’t raise children like that, or marry someone special like that, unless you are special yourself.

While Sol was a big deal in our synagogue and big donor to countless charities and schools, it might seem strange, but what made him unique to me was just how “not special” our interactions always were. To me, he was just a really nice guy who always had a big smile on his face, a kind word to say, and who I just generally liked shooting the breeze with. I don’t run a synagogue or non-profit so it’s not like when I see Saul, I’m trying to get him to donate a wing of building or something (which of course he already did to our synagogue) so I guess he always felt that our interactions were more genuine. At least I’m hoping he did. People have told me that even those who came to him looking for donations had that feeling also, so who knows, but it always seemed to me he generally liked talking to me.

A few years ago I was hired to perform at a synagogue banquet. Nothing special there, but when I arrived the Rabbi told me they were honoring a man named Sol Teichman. No surprise there either, and I cracked up laughing as I told him I knew Sol and we were buddies. I’m pretty intellectually honest if I have a bad show, and I’ll tell you about it. That night though, everything clicked, and every joke landed. I was happy I had a strong show, but I was happier seeing Sol laughing and having a good time. He always put a smile on my face and I finally got to do it back, professionally. There’s a phrase in Hebrew, “Ein Navi B’Iro” “There is no prophet in his own city”. Basically, a fancy way of saying that you don’t get any respect from people who know you, no matter how much success you may achieve. I’ve always felt that way as far as my comedy career, but I’m sure many of us do in regards to whatever our profession is. This time though, I didn’t. Sol came right up to me and said, “I’m telling everyone how great you were tonight!” I’m certainly not going to argue with the guy, and of course he put a smile on my face…again.

Sol passed away at 91 a couple years ago, and this past week his sons Alan, Dubi, along with everyone’s grandma, Sol’s widow Ruth, came to Israel and had a memorial service on the Mount of Olives where he is buried. Even during Corona a large group gathered to pay their respects and I’m lucky enough to be in Israel to do the same.

As we were all wearing masks, obviously it was hard to see everyone’s face, and for me that was probably a good thing, because underneath mine, I had a big smile. I know it was probably inappropriate, but I couldn’t help it. Even when gone, just the thought of Sol always made me smile. Being at a gravesite is supposed to be a somber experience, but even when gone from this world, I felt like Sol was sending me a message saying, “Look Avi, no being sad at this one. We’ve managed to keep those smiles going this long, so no stopping now!” While I’ll obviously miss him, and few people have left a better mark on humanity than this guy did, what I’ll miss the most is not the big banquets, not the numerous speeches honoring him, but the simple pleasure I always took in bumping into a genuine, nice guy who made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room, and of course, a simple, pleasant, heartwarming, smile.

About the Author
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America's top stand-up comedians.
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