Intellectual finds fulfillment working in a factory

Stan Erlich

Stan Ehrlich 1920–2004

Born to a Jewish businessman and a concert pianist, Stan was attending business school in Brussels in 1940 when the Nazis invaded Belgium. He fled for his life, illegally crossing numerous borders until he left Europe from Spain, eventually settling in Buenos Aires, where he met and married Hela, a Jewish refugee from Dresden. In Buenos Aires, they lived “the classic bourgeois life.”

Despite financial security and the cosmopolitan trappings of their social life – the Ehrlichs each spoke four languages and were conversant in philosophy, literature, and modern art – the young couple was dissatisfied. They considered themselves survivors, and as Stan put it years later, they were searching for “something transcendent, something that could relate our life to eternal truths and values, and give our work substance and meaning.”

They discovered the Bruderhof and joined in 1954. Stan’s sense of gratitude and awe, even personal indebtedness, before what he perceived to be a miracle – the communal life they had found – never dimmed. Over the next decades, Stan worked for the community’s businesses in sales and shipping and in its factories. An odd fit for someone with his interests and intellectual gifts? Stan would beg to differ. As he wrote to a granddaughter: “Happiness and inner peace do not depend on your work. They depend on the purpose you have discovered for your life.” Writing in his seventies to an old friend, he said:

I still work a few hours every day in our factory. A joy! The way the windows are set, so that the place is flooded with light; the height of the ceiling; the atmosphere of peace on the floor – all of a sudden it occurred to me that this was a cathedral. Light, joy, peace, service: isn’t that what cathedrals are about?

Happiness and inner peace do not depend on your work. They depend on the purpose you have discovered for your life.

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