I had intended to write some political posts, but after attending the funeral of one of the most beloved members of my former congregation, my mind turned to other things, especially to that great man, a simple man in some people’s eyes, but learned in Torah and the traditions of his ancestors and kind to all he met.
He was, as the rabbi put it in his eulogy, the congregation’s “sexton” or factotum, doing all manner of little things, necessary for the synagogue to meet ritual requirements, for services to run smoothly and do get done anything else that needed doing.
Few, outside his family and that synagogue, knew Sam Widawski, but those who did, delighted in his presence and now treasure his memory.
Sam was born in Poland in the 1920s and survived sixteen Nazi camps. Despite losing his family and witnessing horrors that we cannot even imagine, he never gave up his faith in humanity. He treated us all with dignity.
I recall how he would often greet me after Shabbas services and on holidays by asking if I were “still a Republican.” I knew from the tone of his voice and the expression on his face that his comment was one of affectionate curiosity. Coming to America at age when most Jews were Democrats and most anti-Semites (outside the South) Republican, he must have found the idea of a Jewish Republican a strange novelty.
It wasn’t just that. It was his unique way of acknowledging me. Whenever he asked that question, he made me feel welcome in a congregation he had joined over three decades before I had. [Read more…]