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In My Father’s Footsteps

by Mr. David Sacks

  

Library » Holidays » Yom Kippur » Essays | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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It’s one of those one-in-a-zillion stories. The type my father likes to say would give a computer a nervous breakdown. It begins in 1946. My father had just finished his military service and was living in Los Angeles, an exotic choice for a Newark, New Jersey boy, and was just beginning a stint at UCLA.

It was summer time, the new term was about to begin, and my father was looking for a place to stay. He went to the fraternity closest to campus, gave them a deposit and began to unpack.

A short while later there was a knock at the door. It was one of the senior members of the fraternity. He quickly assessed the situation, and began hinting that my father “might be more comfortable elsewhere.” This seemed strange. My father just landed a spot as close as you could get to the campus – what could be “more comfortable” than that? My father assured him that he was happy there, but the man persisted, saying that it might be nicer to be around people “more like yourself”.

By way of example, he mentioned the name of the Jewish fraternity nearby. Naively, my father explained that having just served in the United States Army, he had been exposed to all kinds of people, and enjoyed – even thrived on diversity. The man repeated that my father would feel more comfortable elsewhere, but this time it wasn’t a suggestion. They were his parting words. He gave my father back his deposit and left the room. Suddenly, my father understood. No Jews Allowed.
 
My father vividly recalls how as he walked down the stairs, the ping-pong game in the rec room abruptly stopped, and everyone became uncomfortably silent. It stayed that way until he left the building.
 
But the real story begins with what happened next.
 
There was any number of places my father could have gone. While anti-Semitism was still a potent force in American Society, the flood gates of assimilation were open, and tens of thousands of Jews were rushing through leaving their Jewishness behind. It would have been a perfect moment for my father to do the same. After all, if this is what comes with being Jewish, then who needs it? But my father made the exact opposite choice. He went to the Jewish frat house on 741 Gayley Avenue and took up residence there. 

He gave my father back his deposit and left the room. Suddenly, my father understood. No Jews Allowed
Cut to: Yom Kippur, forty years later.

After a very unlikely series of events, I, too, ended up in Los Angeles. In a nutshell, while attending Harvard, I started writing for the Lampoon, and improbably decided on a career in comedy writing. Even more improbably, after graduating with no job prospects, and taking my old job back as an elevator operator in my parent’s building on 79th and Broadway, the phone rang.

“Not Necessarily the News”, a show on HBO called, offering me a three week trial period on their writing staff. (That led to a second three week trial period, which led to a four week contract. My introduction to job security - Hollywood style.)

I didn’t grow up observant, but my parents’ instilled within me a strong sense of Jewish identity. As a child, I remember my mother saying “Shema” with me before I went to bed. As an eight year old, I remember reading Hasidic stories from “Talks and Tales” the Lubavitcher children magazine an observant neighbor sent my older brother as a bar Mitzvah present. 


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(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
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Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
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