Veteran’s Day, 2015: My Favorite Veteran, Rabbi Abraham Avrech z’l

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 speaks of his Chaplaincy as the most important and fulfilling of his long and distinguished Rabbinic career.

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 passed away on March 15, 2014. This is the second Veteran’s Day without my father’s physical presence in this world.

He is gone, but like all veteran’s certainly not forgotten.

Take a moment to ponder the enormous sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes and their families.

Millions and millions of people all over the world are forever in their debt.

Keep in mind that the U.S.military has freed more people on this earth from tyranny and evil than any other force. Certainly, American servicemen have done more for the cause of freedom and democracy than any so-called peace movement.

Whenever I see the brain-dead bumper sticker, “War is not the Answer,” I cringe, for war is frequently the only answer, the only moral response to evil.

Because if the forces of good do not defeat evil, evil prevails.

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 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 was a star athlete. He excelled in basketball though he’s only about 5’5. This is the Yeshiva University basketball team, 1938-39. My father, center, front row, right, holds the ball. Also holding the ball is Rabbi Irving Koslowe, z’l, one of my father’s best friends. Rabbi Koslowe went on to be prison Chaplain at Sing-Sing prison. His first duty was to accompany Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to their executions. “She was the strong one,” he told me, “She was a true believer. Not an ounce of remorse.”

My father was a star athlete. He excelled in basketball though he was only about 5’4. This is the Yeshiva University basketball team, 1938-39. My father, center, front row, right, holds the ball. Also holding the ball is Rabbi Irving Koslowe, z’l, one of my father’s best friends. Rabbi Koslowe went on to be the Jewish Chaplain at Sing-Sing prison. His first duty was to accompany Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to their executions. “She was the strong one,” he told me, “She was a true believer. Not an ounce of remorse.”

 

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 1948, my father touches home after hitting a home run for his Brooklyn team.

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.

 

In 1943, Abraham married my mother, Mina Keiler.

In 1943, Abraham married my mother, Mina Keiler. My beloved mother passed away in 1989 at the age of 65, too young, too young. My mother borrowed the wedding gown from a wealthy relative. My father rented the tux.

 

My father conducts High Holiday services during the Korean War.

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 overhead 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.

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 is 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 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 worked at Yeshiva University for over 30-years. He was Director of Community Service Division and Director of Alumni. This shot was taken in the early 50′s in his YU office. As a child, when my father took me to work I just loved watching him interact with students, Rabbis, and teachers. Every once in a while a student needed a loan. Most YU students were from modest homes. My father would shoo me out of the office when he made the interest free loans from a fund he administered. He didn’t want to embarrass the student.

My father worked at Yeshiva University for over 30-years. He was Director of Community Service Division and Director of Alumni. This shot was taken in the early 60′s in his YU office. As a child, when my father took me to work I just loved watching him interact with students, Rabbis, and teachers. Every once in a while a student needed a loan. Most YU students were from very modest homes. My father would shoo me out of the office when he made the interest free loans from a fund he administered. He didn’t want to embarrass the student.

 

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 my pistols. He chose my Ruger Birdshead, a classic cowboy revolver.

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.

 

My father's GI siddur, prayer book. It is bound in leather and the pages are gilded to protect against wear and tear.

My father’s GI siddur, prayer book. It is bound in leather and the pages are gilded to protect against wear and tear.

 

This is my father's headstone. On the top left hand corner you can see a veteran's medallion sent by the VA to be affixed to my father's headstone.

This is my father’s headstone. On the top left hand corner you can see the honorary medallion sent by the VA which is 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.

Here’s a close-up of the medallion.

G-d bless my father and all our veterans, living and dead.

G-d bless the United States of America.

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10 Comments

  1. DrCarol
    Posted November 13, 2015 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Three years working in a VA hospital taught me that no one who served came back unchanged. We can never repay them. I wish we did a better job at trying.

    Our pipe band played at a local school on Tuesday, leading a group of veterans and active duty soldiers through the halls packed with flag-waving children, teachers, and staff. It was an honor to do so.

    G-d be with our veterans and all those who volunteer to keep us, and our country, safe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Bill Brandt
    Posted November 12, 2015 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    My father died a month ago – and he never talked about his Army service – well, very little. Never could understand why he wouldn’t take me camping until after he died and my mother mentioned some of his letters from Korea and saying how miserably cold it was in his tent.

    I was born a month premature and my mother is convinced it is because she was so upset at his being recalled (he was a WW2 vet) to Korea – had to report to Ft Lewis but saw me a day before he had to leave. (or maybe I arrived so he could see me?)

    I learned via my mother and his letters, that they were recalling so many WW2 vets – one guy in my father’s unit had his trigger finger shot off in WW2 but the Army called him back anyway.

    That is how chaotic it was.

    Never thought my father cared much about talking about the Army until we went into his safe deposit box and found a certificate – from Ft Benning, of his graduation from the Parachute School in 1943. Guess in his private heart he was still an old soldier.

    I have framed it along with an 82nd Airborne patch and tab.

    Wouldn’t surprise me Robert if my father crossed paths with your father in Korea.

    We buried him out at a National Cemetery per his wishes.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 12, 2015 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      Bill:

      Our condolences on your father’s passing. May his memory be a blessing.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Alemaster
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    You know my thoughts Mr. Avrech. His service paid for the citizenship of many. I know you miss him. respectfully, Alemaster

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 12, 2015 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Alemaster:

      Thanks so much for the kind words.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. sennacherib
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Robert,
    I always love this post and the pictures. I especially like the one of your Dad, Grandmother, and Great Grandmother in Poland. I especially love the two guys in the background and most certainly the one with the hat!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. covvie
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    What a berachah, in many ways, to have grown up in such a home. I’m sure you miss him terribly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 11, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      covvie:

      I miss my father and my mother. Thanks so much.

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  6. Posted November 11, 2015 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your service to our Nation and to our service men and women, Rabbi Abraham Avrech zt’l

    (Robert, I hope I’m using the Hebrew terminology correctly here. If not, please accept my sincerest apology…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 11, 2015 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Prophetjoe:

      Your usage of Hebrew is correct. Thanks so much.

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