My Father Died Long Ago—but His Example Lives On

By Larry Peterson

Sometimes things happen that you never forget

I remember that Friday night long ago very well. The screaming started about midnight. It was September, and the windows were still open because it was hot, and the screaming seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up, and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

“Down there” was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. We got up and followed him. We watched as, without hesitating, Dad walked up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened. Leo poked his head out, and just like that, my father was embracing this little Jewish man who, crying unashamedly, had buried his head in Dad’s chest.

My brother and I had crouched down, and peeking from the landing above, were stunned. Leo was the landlord, and everyone seemed to be afraid of him. Not Dad. He disappeared into that apartment with Leo Rabinowitz and did not leave for several hours.

Nightmares created years before

Sophie Rabinowitz was a tormented woman who suffered from horrible nightmares. These nightmares were created years before, when her two boys, ages 12 and 9, were clubbed to death by the Nazis. As her children were brutally beaten, their killers made Sophie and Leo watch. They had begged their captors to kill them and spare their children, but the Nazis tortured the helpless parents further by laughing and allowing them to live.

Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments were like for them. Sophie and Leo  were loving parents, and soldiers were forcing them to stand there, defenseless and powerless, as they clubbed their children to death. And why did they do this?  Simply because they were Jewish. Such evil can only come into people and be accepted by them if Satan has successfully won them over.

My father has been dead for many years, but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12—aka The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

They had never mourned their boys

As my memory travels back in time I remember how a Catholic man had gone to his Jewish neighbor and how they became friends. My father became their ‘comforter’ by reaching out with an impromptu embrace and initiating the grieving process for Leo and Sophie. They had never mourned their boys and tried to go on living. It was an effort in futility. But this proved to be the moment when they began confronting what had happened to them. Ironically, reliving the sadness and horror also released a sense of beauty that shone through it, for it united them in a renewed marital bond that had been missing for nearly twenty years. They now became each other’s strength.

We Catholics read and hear during the Mass from the Roman Canon (aka First Eucharistic Prayer). the following words said by the priest before the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, —–and all your saints—” 

I ask you, were not all of those mentioned Jewish? Yes, they were. There is no denying this fact. They are all canonized saints, and their Judaism was always part of who they were. It all extrapolated into who we Catholics/Christians are today. We Jews and Christians are joined forever by Spiritual DNA.

It is now 2022, and Judaism and Christianity are under attack all over the world, including in the United States of America. It is in our face. We here, in the USA,  have had the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so chose for as long as most of us can remember. It is, in my opinion, the greatest freedom given us by the Founding Fathers. We must fight to protect this freedom no matter what the cost.

Of course, there have always been those who have hated someone for being either Jewish or Catholic/Christian. I just wish those folks could have met my dad.

HAPPY FATHER”S DAY  Pops;   Love you