My father, Rabbi Abraham Avrech. An Army Chaplain in the 42nd Rainbow Division, my father served this great nation through World War II, The Korean War and Vietnam. Retired as a full Colonel, my father often spoke of his Chaplaincy as the most important and fulfilling of his long and distinguished Rabbinic career.
My father, Rabbi Chaplain Abraham Avrech, z’l, passed away on March 15, 2014, which the Jewish calendar translates into the 13th of Adar. Thus, tonight — Jewish holidays begin after sundown — is the third Yahrzeit, memorial, without my father’s physical presence in this world. My father was 94 years old.
He is gone, but he is certainly not forgotten.
I ponder the astonishing trajectory of my father’s life. Born in a tiny impoverished Polish town, my father and his family emigrated to America where they found the liberty to live as Jews and Americans.
My father reveled in Americanism, even as he lived the life of a Torah Jew and a religious Zionist.
Like most New York Jews, my father was a lever-pulling Democrat for most of his life. But in his later years, he realized that the Democrat party had changed into a crypto-socialist organism dedicated to subverting American exceptionalism, the Constitution, and home to anti-Israel, Jew-hating leftists.
My father was appalled by ex-president Obama; that a man who was a member of a Jew-hating church for over 20 years was elected to this nation’s highest office was, to my father, a ghastly subversion of the ideals of the America he loved.
As we head into Purim, the holiday in which Jews remember an ancient Persian regime that sought to annihilate the Jewish people, I will read Megillat Esther and proudly remember my father: a pious Jew and a proud American.
My father was born in Yanuv, a small town in Poland, June 4, 1919. He is the child on the left. His grandmother holds his hand. His older brother Chaim is to the right. Chaim passed away many years ago, but he was also in the Army and served in the Pacific. My grandmother, Miriam, is the lovely woman on the right.
My father, Rabbi Abraham Avrech. This photo was taken when he was a student in Yeshiva University. Soon afterwards, he joined the Army as a Chaplain and served in the Rainbow Division.
My grandfather, Rabbi Samuel Avrech, came alone to America, worked hard and sent money back to my grandmother, Miriam. She came to America with my father and Chaim and struggled to achieve the American dream. My father always said: “We had no idea we were poor. Everyone we knew was poor. But we were happy.” My father was quickly Americanized, becoming a fanatic baseball player. In this photo, taken in 1942, my father touches home after hitting a home run for his Brooklyn team.
My father conducts High Holiday services during the Korean War.
As an orthodox Jewish Chaplain, my father was frequently underestimated by his fellow officers. Dad took full advantage of this soft anti-Semitism and cheerily accepted challenges to play ping-pong for small wages. At first, my father would fumble around, lull his opponent into a false sense of security, and then boom! he’d unleash a vicious slam that left the other guy speechless — and a few bucks light. Dad was like Paul Newman in “The Hustler,” minus Piper Laurie and broken thumbs.
My father in a helicopter, 1956. As you can see, there is a coffin bolted to the chopper. My father never talked about the dead. He did tell me about young soldiers about to go into combat who talked to him about their fears. My father was a good, compassionate man who also counseled non-Jewish soldiers in the absence of a Christian chaplain. “We were all in it together,” said my father modestly.
My father’s GI siddur, prayer book. It is bound in leather and the pages are gilded to protect against wear and tear.
A few years ago, My father was visiting us in Los Angeles. One afternoon, I was sitting in my office, cleaning my guns. My father asked if he could pose with one of them. He chose my Ruger Bird’s Head, a classic cowboy six-shooter. The first movie my father ever took me to see was a John Wayne film. My father loved Westerns. He understood the moral landscape of the Old West where good and evil struggle for dominance.
This is my father’s headstone. On the top left hand corner you can see a medallion sent by the VA to be affixed to the granite. The inscription on the headstone reads: “A crown has fallen from our heads, Rabbi Abraham son of Rabbi Shmuel.” The quote we chose with which to honor my father’s memory is from Genesis, 23:6. “You are a prince of God in our midst.” It is Jewish tradition for visitors to place a rock on the headstone to signify that they have paid their respects to the dead.
Here’s a close-up of the medallion.
May HaRav Avraham ben HaRav Shmuel’s neshama have an aliyah.
Lielle Meital wishes all our friends and relatives a peaceful Shabbat and a happy Purim.