Author M. Hirsh Goldberg knows a lot about Baltimore, and he knows a lot about Jews. Yet even he was surprised to learn some of the impressive details uncovered about the extended Attman family, which comprise his latest book, “It All Started with a Deli: A Remarkable Story of Business and Family Success” (Apprentice House).
“The deli was approaching its 100th anniversary,” said Goldberg. “Then learning more about the family I felt the story really had to be told.”
Harry and Ida Attman, patriarch and matriarch of the Attman clan, emigrated from Kusmien, Russia in 1912 and Podwoloscycka, Poland in 1915, respectively. Like many immigrants they started out with nearly nothing. Harry opened the deli at 1019 Lombard in 1915 (with a business partner until 1940), and Harry and Ida were married on Oct. 25, 1918. The Attmans subscribed to a strong work ethic and a deeply held belief that you always can — and should — be willing to help someone out. The book is filled with colorful anecdotes and illustrates how that sentiment has imprinted upon the DNA of three generations of Attmans, and still counting.
“What’s also interesting was discovering the simultaneous events happening in the world over almost 100 years,” said Goldberg. “For instance, not many people know that in 1919 the Spanish flu hit worldwide and killed 25 million people, and Baltimore was the fourth-largest city to have victims of the flu. The deli survived through that … [and through] the Depression and World War II.”
Goldberg would like people to come away with the optimism the Attman story offers: Even when you have very little, you can do a lot with your life. That was demonstrated with Harry and Ida who had nothing and put in long hours with hard work and had much success. They genuinely cared about their employees, their customers and family. These tenets were passed on to their off spring as well.
Harry and Ida’s three children, Edward, Leonard and Seymour, all went on to become dedicated in business as well as philanthropy. Seymour further developed the deli with success, Edward started Acme Paper, and Leonard established FutureCare Health and Management Corporation. All of them have been generous, creative supporters of many different causes, as are their own children, the grandchildren of Harry and Ida.
In Goldberg’s book there is a single line that quintessentially describes the Attman legacy: “It’s more than making a living, it’s making a life.”
“It was Harry and Ida,” said current Attman’s Deli owner Marc Attman (son of Seymour). “They told us, ‘Slow but sure, give tzedakah, go to shul, be nice to people and listen to what people have to say.”
Attman continued, “My grandfather said you’re never going to get poor giving charity. And you know what? He’s always been right. There’s nothing wrong with always going into your pocket and helping out someone in need. Even with my grandchildren. Now we always talk about tzedakah at the dinner table: ‘What did you do for someone else today?’ ‘Who did you talk to that you didn’t know?’ ‘Who did you make a friend with?’ It is just the philosophy of the Attman family. That’s what we do, I’m happy to say … and it started with my grandfather and grandmother.”
M. Hirsh Goldberg has written five other books, “The Jewish Connection,” “Just Because They’re Jewish,” “The Book of Lies,” “The Blunder Book” and “The Complete Book of Greed.” Goldberg (and some of the Attman family) will be featured and sign books on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd St., Baltimore For more information, call 410-732-6400 or visit jewishmuseummd.org.
Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — firstname.lastname@example.org