Friday, January 19, 2007
In memory of my great uncle Lowell Adelson of San Francisco, who died this week at 89. He liberated concentration camps with the 102nd Infantry and earned a Bronze Star. Before that he was the former international head of BBYO. He was sharp as a knife until the end, but his heart just wore out.
I would like to share a war story that he told me last summer.
If you ever want to get a senior to tell stories, ask them about about their childhood. He told me about growing up in Oakland. His parents were divorced and between the two of them, attended Conservative, Orthodox and Reform synagogues. Here is his summary of his Jewish education:
“My grandfolks were very active in Judaism, so I was stuck! I had to go to Talmud Torah from 8 until 14. A year after my bar mitzvah (I was abused!) – after school every day. Sunday too! I was president of the class or some damn thing. I used to bring the cookies, my mother had a grocery store, she gave me a whole bunch of animal cookies, I used to bring the whole thing, and I was in charge of distributing, that made me a big shot. Boy, I hadn’t thought of that in a hundred years.”
Somehow that Jewish education stuck with him and gave an unusual sense of Jewish pride for a mainstream American Jew that carried over into the war. I asked him if there was anti-Semitism in the army. Here’s what he said:
There was stupidity in the army then, not anti-Semitism – for instance, we were on the Rhine river, there was a guy there who sold coal. This Sergeant looks out the window and says, “Jesus Christ, look at that guy, Germans are throwing grenades and he’s selling coal. Must be a Jew!”
I didn’t care about anything, getting court marshaled or whatever. So I said, “Sergeant, you can kiss this Jewish boy’s behind.”
(Chuckles) It turned out, he was from some town in Texas. He never met a Jew. We got to talking, and we eventually became friends.
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I wonder how I would react if I were in a jeep in a war zone and my CO making such a comment. How would you?