Veteran’s Day, 2017: My Favorite Veteran, Rabbi Chaplain 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 fourth 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.

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 the 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 appreciated 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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7 Comments

  1. DrCarol
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I am grateful for your father’s service.

    And for my family’s veterans, spanning the centuries from the Battle of Worcester to Korea. G-d bless them all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Michael Kennedy
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    My wife and I drove to California (from Tucson) last week for some family business. I have a habit of listening to audio books when I commute to Phoenix a day or two a week. She likes audio books so we listened to Steven Pressfield’s book, “The Lion’s Gate,” about the Six Day War. I have the book in hardcover and have read it before but she likes to listen as we drive. It is an amazing book. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. It is all first person accounts of the war with Pressfield only adding a few connecting sentences. The men and women were all interviewed 40 years after the war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Bill Brandt
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 1:28 am | Permalink

      His book Killing Rommel is excellent, too. It is a fiction but against historical fact such as the formation of the SAS and the LRDG – Long Range Desert Group.

      Robert I can certainly understand your aversion to German war movies from the German’s side but Rommel was maybe the only General the Allies respected. I believe he was forced to commit suicide by Hitler because he was to be the liaison to the allies should the July 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler succeeded.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Michael Kennedy
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        I sent a copy to my son along with a copy of “Lion’s Gate.” I have read most of Pressfield’s books beginning with “Gates of Fire.”
        My father was a WWI veteran who enlisted in the Navy at 15. When the war ended, he confessed his age to get discharged. A sailor in the Pacific in WWII won the Navy Cross but it was learned that he was only 15 and the award was cancelled.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      “The Lion’s Gate” is an amazing accomplishment.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    A remarkable life and a remarkable man…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 17, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      My father considered his life pretty ordinary. Like you, I think he was remarkable. Like so many of that generation.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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