Boca Raton, FL – For decades Bob Pergament’s life revolved around paint and wallpaper, but in his golden years, the man whose name became synonymous with home improvement has found himself with a new interest: a South Florida yeshiva day school.
Growing up during the depression near the Nassau County border, the 87 year old Pergament recalled the only nearby synagogue was a Conservative temple, a bus ride away from his Cambria Heights home.
“They had some Hebrew reading, but very little,” Pergament told VIN News. “The Jews were few and far between.”
Despite the lack of Jewish institutions near his home, Pergament was very much aware of his Jewish roots.
“Anti-Semitism was so strong then that people couldn’t get jobs and they put swastikas on my father’s hardware store in Franklin Square,” recalled Pergament. “You could see men walking up and down the street with Nazi flags.”
In 1948, Pergament’s father Louis opened up what was to be the first of dozens of Pergament stores with his two sons, Bob and Murray. With residential construction on the rise after World War II, builders flocked to the store, buying paint and wallpaper for the many new homes being built in the area.
“From there we opened up a larger store, and then an even larger store with more merchandise and before you know it we had stores that were the size of major supermarkets,” said Pergament.
Latex paint was one item that made its debut at the chain store, recalled Pergament.
“I’ll never forget there was a man who came in and wanted to sell a rubber based paint,” said Pergament. “None of the paint stores wanted to take it but I gambled on it. It was fantastic and it opened my eyes to the world of do it yourself. We showed people how easy it was to paint by themselves, so then we took on paint rollers and continued expanding.”
As homeowners found themselves capable of tackling improvements on their own, Pergament continued to capitalize on the do it yourself trend. As the business’ star continued to rise, consumers responded eagerly to the store’s upbeat advertising campaign which urged them to “Be confident, shop Pergament.”
Over time the chain grew to 40 stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, including one location on Borough Park’s 13th Avenue and another in the Monsey area. While the family ultimately sold the business in the late 1980s after receiving what Pergament described as “an offer he couldn’t refuse,” they retained ownership of the real estate they owned. Today Pergament Properties has multiple retail, office and warehouse holdings in Long Island, Queens, Staten Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
More than two decades ago, Pergament relocated to Boca Raton where he has dabbled in various businesses over the years. Pergament said that he shares business philosophies with President-elect Donald Trump who he describes as a long time friend, and said that he hopes that having a businessman in the White House will be good for the economy.
“These politicians come out of college with no experience and never had a lemonade stand in their lives,” said Pergament. “They don’t know from nothing and these are the people who are negotiating with our lives? Let’s give Trump a chance.”
An active philanthropist, Pergament said that he enjoys sharing the good fortune he has enjoyed in life with others, contributing to many causes including the UJA, the Anti Defamation League, Magen David Adom, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the State of Israel, synagogues, hospitals in both Long Island and South Florida and needy individuals.
Pergament also has close ties with Chabad and as a student of kabala for the last 20 years, he wears a red string that had been wrapped around Kever Rochel on his wrist to ward off the evil eye.
It was four years ago that Pergament first met Rabbi Dovid May, director of development at the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, and since then the octogenarian has become a good friend to the yeshiva which has grown in recent years to an enrollment of more than 300 students from preschool through eighth grade.
“Going to see the yeshiva with Rabbi May for the first time was a learning experience for me,” said Pergament. “I had never seen a yeshiva before. I had never walked into a yeshiva before. One of my sons in law went to yeshiva but I never grew up with it.”
Pergament has spoken at the yeshiva on several occasions and described addressing the elementary school students as a thrilling experience. Since the publication of his autobiographical memoir “Be Confident Shop Pergament” in 2013, Pergament said that he has been contacted by numerous colleges, synagogues and yeshivas who have invited him to be a featured speaker, including Torah Academy of Boca Raton.
“They asked me to be honored at their anniversary dinner last year to give a lecture on business,” said Pergament. “I refused at first but Rabbi May talked me into it and asked me to do it for the children. I told them at my age I didn’t need any more publicity but if would help the children I would do it.”
The dinner, held last March, was a huge success, reported Pergament.
“People started calling up from New York, New Jersey and Long Island and saying ‘Is this the yeshiva that Bob is involved in?’” said Pergament. “Rabbi May said we are just going to call it ‘Bob’s Yeshiva.’”
Pergament is impressed with the yeshiva’s growth over the last few years and proud to support a thriving Torah institution.
“Two years ago when I went to talk to the 13 year olds there were 12 of them in the class,” said Pergament. “When I went a month ago there were close to 50 of them.”
Rabbi May described Pergament as a thoughtful and caring individual who is extremely committed to the yeshiva and has encouraged others to follow in his footsteps.
“He is very sweet, very wise and he gives great advice,” said Rabbi May.
In fact, Pergament enjoys sharing his life experience with the students at Torah Academy of Boca Raton.
“When I was a child, I had to travel to find any Jews,” said Pergament. “ I tell the children how lucky they are to have a yeshiva in the neighborhood and how important it is for them to get an education and understand Judaism because that is what we need to carry on our Jewish tradition.”
The father of three and the grandfather of nine, Pergament said that if he were raising his children now, he would do things a little differently.
“If I had my kids today I would start them in a yeshiva because the only way to fight anti-Semitism is having Jews understand what it means to be a Jew so that they can portray what they are to others. So many people to this day don’t even know what a Jew is.”
Coming from an era where his friends had pictures of Hitler in Mussolini in their dining rooms, Pergament has firsthand experience with anti-Semitism and is elated to see Jewish children being raised proudly with a thorough understanding of their culture and heritage.
“I remember during World War II when there were rabbis outside the White House who went to plead for the Jewish concentration camps and Roosevelt wouldn’t let them in,” said Pergament. “After growing up with swastikas to be able to see Jewish studies taught openly? That is the reason why I became involved with the yeshiva.”