Friday, January 16, 2009

Thoughts of My Father on His Yarzeit

Today is my father's yahrzeit. It is a time that I think of all he taught me during his time on earth. One thing about him that I have tried to emulate is his desire to see the world himself and not put on ideological blinders. For him, the world was a classroom.

One of my early memories of him was when we were watching a construction worker hammer a spike at a distance of a few hundred feet.My father pointed out to me that there was a split second between the sight of impact and the time that we heard the sledge hammer hit. My father explained this discrepancy by telling me about the speed of sound, which is a few hundred feet a second and the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles a second.

My father knew what was going on in the world. He did not rely on the newspapers. He spoke with people himself. He formed his opinion through personal observation and through collecting educated opinions. He studied physics and highly technical subjects in university and applied scientific methods to forming his opinions.

He maintained a fondness for Germany throughout his life that was highly atypical for a Jewish immigrant from Germany. He followed German contemporary events and tended to symapthise with the Social Democrats more often than the parties further to the right. He lived before the war in a section of Berlin that reminds me a lot of the Midwood section of Brooklyn with its well kept lawns and single family houses. His parents kept him very sheltered from the events surrounding Hitler's rise to power. He knew little of Jewishness other than that it kept him on the sidelines.

The illusion of peace that was cultivated by my grandparents fell apart when his uncle was arrested and sent to Dachau. Shortly afterward he and his family left Germany. He worked hard to perfect his English and shared with my mother a love and respect for its correct use as well as for education.

It was interesting comparing my father's opinions with those of his sister and parents. They were remarkably diverse in their temperament and in how they saw their place in Germany and America.

He and I differed on matters of Jewish observance. My parents sent me to Catholic school. I credit the nuns with a traditional approach to teaching basic skills. Their strong feelings about anti Irish and anti Catholic prejudice also provided me with a framework in which to understand other forms of prejudice The nuns were theologically correct in their presentation of Catholic doctrine, which greatly hastened my embrace of Judaism. This was not what my father expected.

Although my father was conservative in his ideas about family life and youth behavior, the one domain of freedom was political, religious and philosophical debate. My father could run circles around me. He was well informed and knew how to marshal the facts to support his point of view. My wife was shocked when she met my family to see such debates run for hours. To this day, I try to imagine what my father's opinion would be on an issue. My father left more of an imprint on my thinking than he thought.

My father and I did have areas of common interest. We used to drink Beck's beer and listen to East German rock music together when I would visit in what to him was bizarre religious attire.
He imparted to me a knowledge of Bertolt Brecht (who I enjoy more as a poet than a playwright) and Leopold_Trepper, a Jewish spy during World War Two who cost the Nazis thousands of casualties through his espionage network.

Today is a day when I reflect upon the many ways in which my father remains with me. He told me many years ago to pursue writing, advice I put in cold storage for about a quarter of a century.

So Pa, I hope this post reaches you. I wish you were here, because if you were here we would have a few beers, listen to some Fats Waller and have a good political argument. I am putting up Alonzo Garbanzo's version of "Poor Howard" at the top of this post. Geoff sang it by Ma's grave. It reminds me of you too.

Good Shabbos. Deine Neschome soll haben ein Alija. Your soul should climb higher. Have a good Shabbos. I'll leave the light on for you Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Ted said...



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