Like so many of us at the Yiddish Book Center, I’m deeply saddened to learn of Saul’s passing. He was a mentsh: brilliant, kind, and caring, and I will miss him. Zeykher hatsadik l’vrokhe – May the memory of the righteous be a blessing for us all. — Aaron Lansky, Yiddish Book Center founder and president
The following profile of Saul Kurlat appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Kvel.
In the small South Carolina town where he grew up, Saul Kurlat couldn’t find enough opportunities to challenge his young mind. His parents, immigrants from Eastern Europe who had met working in a garment factory in New York, had moved south. His father managed a clothing factory. Their story still astonishes him.
“When I think about it I’m amazed at how young they were and how they managed in a new country,” he said. But small town life was not enough for their precocious son. At the age of five he had taken apart the family vacuum cleaner and put it back together again — he was clearly destined for a career in engineering. Eventually he got on a bus and rode off to the big city—or at least, the bigger town of Greenwood, where he finished high school and found in his new principal the first of many mentors who would guide him along his path.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II and then studying at Georgia Tech, Saul went on to a career in engineering. Among his many inventions were innovations in color separation technology that revolutionized the color printing industry.
Now, Saul is eager to help others find the same kind of opportunities he sought for himself, especially when it comes to education. Yiddish reminds Saul of the Yiddish his parents spoke at home, and he believes—as they believed—in the value of propagating Jewish culture. For Saul, the Yiddish Book Center embodies other values as well. “I’m very impressed by what Aaron Lansky has done – I was amazed when I visited the Center. I think that the Center is taking a big step in creating opportunities for new generations to access and learn about Jewish culture. That’s why I have established a substantial bequest for the Yiddish Book Center in my estate plans.”
While engineering and Yiddish books might seem worlds apart, Saul is impressed by the energy, optimism, and entrepreneurial spirit of the Center, which is similar to his own approach to life. Whether in engineering or Yiddish education, opportunity is still the name of the game.