Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.


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Friday, November 11, 2005

Veteran Story

In honor of Veterans' Day today in the US (and I believe there's a similar holiday today in Canada?), I send my thanks and admiration to all who have served this great country on the battlefield. So many aspects of our way of life, so much that we all take for granted, are due to the courage and patriotism of those who had to fight for them on our behalf.

On my dad's side of the family, neither he nor my grandfather had the opportunity to serve. My grandfather was 15 when WWI ended, and was too old by the time WWII started. My dad was similarly too young for WWII. He got his smicha [Rabbinic Ordination] in 1952, and - he once told me - was eligible for draft as a chaplain in the Korean war, but that conflict ended before his number came up.

However, my maternal grandfather was a WWI veteran. But you won't see his name on any memorials here in US, due to a minor technicality: he fought for the other guys! Specifically, for the Austro-Hungarian empire under Franz-Joseph, who was, for his time, famous among European rulers for his strong support of his Jewish subjects.

I knew my zaideh only as an elderly, doting grandfather, and to a lesser extent by his role and reputation in Baltimore: Rabbinic leader, surrogate father to the many Holocaust survivors who formed the nucleus of his shul, devout in his Belzer chassidus and his love for all yidden. It's hard for me to picture him as a young man, armed and in uniform. But my uncle likes to tell a story from my zaideh's army experiences, where the values, determination, and zeal that he was known for in his later years could be seen in their first bloom.

It seems that at one point in the war, trains were used to move people, including the Jewish communities, back away from the war front. My zaideh was assigned to guard one of these Jewish transports (ironic side note: trains used in WWI to move Jewish towns for a benign purpose; how different than two decades later!).

At one stopover in a Hungarian Jewish shtetl, the town's Rav and community members came onto the train to distribute much-needed food and water. However, my zaideh noticed that they were only giving these out to the men that were dressed in a frum-looking manner, and to the women whose heads were covered. After - I assume - some fruitless dialogue that my uncle's version of the story doesn't record, my zaideh leveled his rifle at the town rabbi and said, in Yiddish: "You give the food to every Jew on this train, or I'll shoot you dead where you stand!"

Here's to veterans who stand up for justice, whatever the country and whatever the cause!

1 Comments:

At 11/14/05, 5:21 PM, Blogger Mirty said...

Wow. Great story.

The story we heard about my father's father was that he was drafted into the Russian army in WWI. He somehow ended up as an army postman, delivering mail -- perhaps because he could read?!

After the war, he came to America with what may have been forged visa papers.... Sometimes it's hard to separate the fact from fiction in these stories though.

 

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