Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman. She is on in years. Born in 1927, she is ninety this year. Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich. To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.
As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths. Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death. A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.
Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel. There, she married a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949. Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.
In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.
They settled in New York. Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short. Gene Klein.
Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother. It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on. Not his father; his mom. Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.
Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher. He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on. Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen. He and Stanley changed their names. Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.
Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry. In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand. Others are independent enterprises.
A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.” He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.
His advice: If you want inspiration, look to your mom. She’s his inspiration to this moment.
He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS. He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him. “Mom, look at this.”
She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool). V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”
Superstardom. A ten-million-dollar check. “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?
“Precisely the point,” says Gene. One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments. Tomorrow is a new day. What will you do to better yourself? How can you improve what you do?
This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective. How about you? Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes? Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments? Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?
Not sure? Ask Chaim. Better yet, ask his mother.
The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)
The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)