31 July 2020

My Father Abraham on his Yarzeit 5780/2020

My life was blessed to have been able to see hesed being enacted daily by my father Abraham.  He was born in Woodbine, where his parents were founders of an agricultural village established in 1891 in New Jersey for Jews fleeing to freedom from the pogroms of Czarist Russia. 

After high school, Abraham left his birthplace and his parent’s home and moved to New York where he met my mother Jeanne, a rabbi’s daughter born in Boston.  As the Great Depression was approaching, Abraham turned down admission to university and a pro baseball contract at a time when a player’s wage was meager.  Instead of realizing his dreams, he ran a housewares store in Brooklyn to support his extended family.

Jeanne told of the days when her parents and their five children shared a single roll as their sole meal of the day.   While courting Jeanne, Abraham gave her unemployed father funds to open a Hebrew bookstore to feed his family.  After marrying Jeanne, he gave his brother-in-law, a young rabbi, money for the down payment on a building to convert to a storefront synagogue with living quarters above.  His brother-in-law named it Congregation Beth Abraham after my father.  When Jeanne’s father passed away, his wife with her two unmarried children came to live in my parent’s three-room apartment in Queens when I was seven and my sister five.  

Abraham took them in with opened arms. His hesed flowing through our crowded apartment transformed it into a welcoming home of love and tranquility.   The daily acts of giving and sharing with compassion and caring between my parents, sister, grandmother, aunt and uncle seemed to extend the walls of the small apartment we all shared.  Every word spoken in our home as I grew up was spoken with affection, thoughtfulness, and consideration.     

After my father worked for forty years in his store in Brooklyn, he moved with my mother to Florida.  He joined “Operation Grandfather,” a Federal government sponsored program in which retired people volunteered to work in elementary schools teaching reading and math to disadvantaged children on a one-to-one basis.  After taking courses in child psychology and educational methodology, he worked in the program for ten years.  When I would visit Florida and walk with my father in the mall, I enjoyed seeing excited African-American children call out “Grandpa Abraham,” run into his arms and hug him tightly. 

From my book Through a Bible Lens, pages 97-98               

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