Bring Them Cake!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

This blog may not have much to do with mediation but has everything to do with conflict resolution. It is a tribute to Nathanial (Nat) Pollack- my father in law – who passed away suddenly (of a heart attack) on August 13, 2016.

My father in law had an extraordinary life. During World War II- at age 17- he joined the Navy where he learned to be an engineer. After his discharge- he went to college for a year but became restless and so joined the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Irgun) fighting in Israel’s w

War of Independence during 1947-1949. Because he was trained as an engineer, the Irgun invited him to be part of the crew of the Altalena. On June 20, 1948, the ship arrived off of the coast of Tel-Aviv with weapons and munitions. The captain refused to surrender to Ben-Gurion who, in response to the captain’s refusal, ordered the ship blown up. My father-in law was wounded and one of the last to jump into the harbor, swim ashore and survive.

After the war, he went to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York and opened a bakery. When the Bakers’ Union attempted to force him to hire a “baker” who knew nothing about baking, he closed his shop, auctioned off the fixtures and moved to Jersey City, New Jersey.  He operated several bakeries there for decades and became well known for his cream cakes and California Fruit Bar.

Upon his retirement, he and my mother in law (of blessed memory) moved to Israel where he worked as a volunteer baker on many Kibbutzim. They moved back to the United States when the grandchildren started arriving.

But, my father in law could not sit still. He joined VOCA (Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) now known as ACDI/VOCA (a private economic development non-profit organization) and volunteered to teach baking in what was then the Eastern Bloc countries  and in Africa because typically, the baking equipment was of pre-World War II vintage; very few people knew how to operate and repair it. My father in law was one of them.  His first assignment was in Siberia in November!  Among his 20 or so assignments, he traveled to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Romania, Zambia, and Republic of Congo.

Eventually, his traveling stopped, and my father in law lived a somewhat quieter life near his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

But- the two traits (which he combined into one) that he taught his children and me was to acknowledge everyone and to share. He did so with cake, cookies and other goodies. Whenever he went to visit anyone – whether business or personal- he always brought some of his baked goods with him. Whether he was going to the bank to talk to the manager, to visit his doctors, or to visit his friends, he ALWAYS brought a cake or some cookies that were just baked. And…. he always made the goodies for my husband and me- (blueberry muffins and carrot cake for me and almond cookies for my husband. In fact, he loaded us up with two bags on that fateful Saturday morning.)

What he knew and what took me a while to learn as a mediator is that “breaking bread” with others cements relationships and builds bonds of friendship and trust. It certainly makes people much more receptive to you and what you have to say. It acknowledges them, recognizing that they are important and are entitled to respect. It is hard to be upset with someone who has just given you a wonderful baked good.  Moreover, his gifts of goodies invoked the reciprocity principle.   Studies have shown that those who receive a “gift” feel obliged to return the favor or to reciprocate in some way. Often, this principle works on an unconscious level.  As a consequence, my father in law was a really good negotiator. More times than not, he “succeeded” in his negotiations. Who can say “no” in the face of really great tasting cookies or a carrot cake?

So- thank you Nat for teaching all of us the very valuable lessons of acknowledging others and sharing. May you rest in peace.

… Just something to think about.

                        author

Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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