June 11, 2008
To: Dr. Arthur D. Tauber, a Personal Tribute
I first got interested in fencing at summer camp where I met Paul Peyser who was a fencing instructor/counselor. Through our teacher-student relationship, I grew to enjoy fencing and saw it as a challenge of personal accomplishment. A one-on-one chess match on a strip - distance, timing and execution - the basics.
Mostly, I began to hear from Paul about the legendary figure, the “Coach,” who made an indelible impact on the lives of everyone who met him. Fencing would become for me, during high school, and opportunity to anticipate meeting the “Coach.”
So it was a natural event when, in my freshman year at Y.U., I signed up for fencing as my athletic activity. At first, it was daunting. Watching and admiring competitors like the tall, slender epee-men who seemed to be the Coach’s focus.
The normal rhythm of practice brought with it a discipline - a calisthenics warm-up, practicing basic lunges, pairing off and fencing, and then, with time, the ultimate gift came my way - a lesson from the “Coach.”- Oh My G-d!
The lessons and the discipline extended from the run-down “gym” to the dorm. 8-10 Mondays and Wednesdays was practice followed by homework. Camaraderies developed between fencer and fencers and between the fencers and the wrestlers who shared the gym. Some of these friendships would last a lifetime.
Then came the bouts, the competitions - some elating, some disappointing. At times, it was difficult for the Team to win, as against some of the New Jersey schools. We looked forward anxiously to fencing some of the better schools, including Columbia.
My life was in turmoil at the time. My father had died when I was 16. My mother underwent surgery and chemotherapy in 1961 and died in 1962. Life was extremely unsettling. Fencing was very anchoring. The master of the austere façade, the “Coach” proved to be very human! There was always the understanding but the uncompromising fencing master ever-prodding his wards to achieve excellence (each as they might know it) and then there was the after-practice “Coach” who you could sit with in his office (as it were) and discuss a goal, a personal matter, etc. Throughout it all, the “Coach” was giving you his total focus and the benefit of his own experience. Not until many years later, when I became familiar with his NYU fencing record and his IFA Championship bouts in 1942, was I able to realize how much he was able to draw on his own personal strengths, built by his own experiences. I always wondered how he might have been treated in 1942, as he seemed headed for a multi-weapon championship, had he not been Jewish. Ah well, a sign of the times...!
But the Coach’s dignity, his conviction that what you made of yourself was largely up to you, the results of your own efforts, energy, dedication, security, tenacity and determination gave many a young man the tools needed in order to advance into adulthood. So the “Coach” didn’t just teach fencing - he taught life, or the disciplines of life - and so many people went away from their experiences marveling at the human being that they first viewed as a fencing instructor but came to know as a life force.
The Coach’s lessons have guided me through my personal and professional life. The Jewish values he evinces - the dignity, respect for each and every human being that he encountered, the role of the teacher/master and the sense of obligation or opportunity to help others who are coming up behind you, have served me well long since my last bout or lesson. He taught the discipline of excelling in one’s chosen field and in treating each person (or patient) with the same dignity and discipline and humility, in order to help them address their issues or conquer their disease, and the dedication to family that was always the hallmark of his world. And the energy that says that the outcomes of one’s own life are determined by the forces of one’s own energy - G-d willing - that one must work in order to make life fulfilling and that the work is, in part, the reward itself.
The “Coach” was a guiding force to so many people over their lives, that each in their own way, has claimed the “Coach” to be his own. How delightful that in one’s lifetime so many people can claim and acknowledge what a truly special influence the “Coach” has been! That truth is broadly appreciated whether as individuals or as a united and like-minded group.
I hope that the “Coach” can bask in the light and the warmth of this rare, yet magnificent adulation and enjoy these wonderful feelings for many years to come in good health, surrounded by his loving wife, Lenore, and family- “Ad Me’ah V’esrim Shanah.”
With great admiration,
Warren E. Enker