Streetwise: A man of deeds

Charles Passman talked very little, but he was a man of wise counsel and loyalty. His silence was filled with wisdom.

street sign 88 (photo credit: David Deutsch)
street sign 88
(photo credit: David Deutsch)
The area of Herzliya in which Rehov Charles Passman is situated is one of the highest points of the town, not far from the main road, Rehov Ben-Gurion, which connects the town to its next-door neighbor, Ramat Hasharon. You know it's high up, not just because the road from Ben-Gurion slopes up to Passman but because around the corner is the impressive water tower looming over the nearby Rehov Yehuda Hanassi. It's a quiet, countrylike area of private villas, a few upper-class apartment buildings and duplexes with not even a neighborhood grocery store to add some variety. Passman itself is a long street, some of it with traffic running only one way, and every villa built on it is a different style as though the owners purchased their plot and more or less had carte blanche to build anything they wanted. In fact, stretches of it still have empty plots with tall grass and seasonal wild flowers. Information on who Charles Passman was is very thin, both in the city archives and on the Internet. The Herzliya Municipality came up with a few lines on Passman, who was the chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee here from 1949 until 1957. He immigrated from the US in 1920 and was given the mission of building the new town which would bear the name of the founder of Zionism. According to the city's book of founders, he took care of all the details and was even given the task of choosing the first settlers. Although this information was certainly helpful, it told me nothing about who the man Passman really was. Then I had an inspiration and sent an e-mail to the archives of the Joint in America. Within a day they sent back a veritable treasure. It was a translation of an article which had appeared in Davar on December 31, 1971, the year he died, so presumably it was an obituary. The writer was Avraham Harzfeld, who knew Charles Passman well. Harzfeld was a Labor Party functionary who was responsible for many settlements established in the 1920s. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, "There was hardly an establishment of a new settlement at which Harzfeld was not personally present..." His insights into the character and life of Passman are illuminating. Charles Passman, born Shmuel in Brest-Litovsk in 1888, came to the United States at 12. He came from a traditional Jewish home and absorbed 'Yiddishkeit' from heder and yeshiva and was also a product of American culture. Harzfeld: "Charles Passman talked very little, but he was a man of wise counsel and loyalty. His silence was filled with wisdom and of course his words and deeds. Whenever he wrote or checked a contract, you could be sure that it would be devoid of any pitfalls." At the beginning of their relationship there was "an element of uneasiness," says Harzfeld.