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This week's Chicagoan: Howard Cort, septuagenarian and activist 

"I and a Moroccan fellow and an Iraqi Jew from Israel, we shared an apartment on Rittenhouse Square."

Cort took Hebrew and Arabic at the same time. You think you could do that?

Cort took Hebrew and Arabic at the same time. You think you could do that?

Dave Jones

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"I grew up in Ohio, where my father was the president of a chain of shoe stores. I spent five years in the company, and I'm pleased that I did. I learned some down-to-earth things, which I'm not the strongest in, some people have said. But that was not the route I wanted to go. So I enrolled in a Middle East studies program in Pennsylvania.

"I and a Moroccan fellow and an Iraqi Jew from Israel, we shared an apartment on Rittenhouse Square, which is a classy place in Philadelphia. I had a car, so I was pretty popular. I met my wife there—in fact, I stole her from somebody. I guess we're still friends, if he's still alive. She died in 1996.

"One of the reasons I dropped out of the program was that I was taking Hebrew and Arabic at the same time. You think you could do that? I ended up working for the state of New York, but I've always wanted to help bring about peace in the Middle East. I started a research clearinghouse called Political Approaches to Co-existence, or PACO. 'Paco' means 'peace' in Esperanto.

"Our gravestone—on the top of it is my wife's name and a motto: 'My love comes softly.' I'm gonna have the bottom. It will say 'No one is an island,' and in the middle it will say 'Political Approaches to Co-existence.' Someone who sees that might get the idea of looking it up on the Internet. Maybe it could live on that way.

"In 2005 I went on a trip to Israel. I got sick and had to be taken to a hospital. There was a Palestinian who visited me. With the help of my brother-in-law and sister, he got me back to the States. My sister said, 'Why don't you come to Chicago?' My whole family is here. I said, 'Maybe I'll meet Studs Terkel, who knows?'

"So I came here. It's been great. Chicago is one of the really exciting places in the country. I'm in this Connected Living computer program, which is tied into the Kenwood of Lakeview senior facility where I live.

"I'm in the glee club; I sing solos. I like to make a little noise. I'm in a klezmer band. We had them play at the Kenwood. Afterward, I treated 'em all to a meal. How did I do that? I get one meal a day plus breakfast. So for 12, 14 days I didn't eat my one meal, and I used it to treat my friends."

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