There are ways of remembering, and then there are ways of remembering. Today was a Yizkor day – the last day of Pesach, and a day in which the morning service has in it the Yizkor service ….Yizkor, remembrance, like the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. It’s when we actively call to mind those of our loved ones who have died.
My dad died in 1988. I remembered him in a different way this morning.
I am currently working on the educational and program material for a new play opening in Skokie in May called “The Invasion of Skokie”. It’s the premier piece being produced by a new identity theater company called ShPIel, and it opens at the Meyer Kaplan JCC on May 22. The play takes place in the town of Skokie in 1978, when a survivor-father and his wife confront their daughter’s fiance, a long time family friend who is not Jewish. The interfaith family drama takes place against the backdrop of the attempted Nazi March in Skokie.
Skokie is my home town, and my dad was the prosecuting attorney for the Village back then. I lived that particular piece of history, but to do some actual research, I headed to my very first library, the Skokie Public Library, where Miss Radmacher helped me get books down from the high shelves because I was too short to reach. Among the archives, now digitally preserved, I read and re-read about the First Amendment challenge, the ACLU, the ADL, the Nazi party and the people who made up my childhood circle – the mayor, the trustees and the village lawyers like my dad.
It’s a familiar story. The Village tried to stop the march on the grounds that the Nazis and their uniforms constituted hate speech, and therefore wasn’t protected by the First Amendment. My dad helped write those arguments, and knew in his heart they wouldn’t pass Constitutional muster. After all the appeals and rallies, the Nazis didn’t march in my home town, but certainly gave the world a lesson in the painful but proud powers of the concept of Free Speech. My father spoke to me this morning as I read article after article. The conversations we had arose again, and I could hear him explain things. I could also hear the voices of my mom and sisters around the table, presenting in one family the many opinions of Skokie residents on what to do about the Nazis.
I’m very proud of my father, even though (or perhaps, because) his arguments were shot down back then. He fought for them, believing in the Law of the Land and the judges who held the laws sacred. He went on to become a judge, and by all accounts, he was a good one. I was out of the house by then, so I’m just going by what the newspapers said and the folks who came to his funeral. He died in his chambers, doing the work he loved best keeping truth, justice and the American way alive and applicable to every-day people. He was the most remarkable American, and we hardly agreed on anything politically except that.
I didn’t go to shul this morning to say Yizkor for my father. Instead, I went to Skokie and let his work speak to me instead.