Memories Inspired by John Lewis Memorials

Rabbi Manuel Laderman, founding rabbi of the old West Colfax neighborhood’s Hebrew Educational Alliance, hosted memorable monthly book reviews at the social hall of the famous west side synagogue. Hundreds of people from all over Denver crowded anxiously into the synagogue social hall. Rabbi Laderman invited me to his lectures and I attended those monthly inspiring lectures. And Gerard Rudofsky, a member of the rabbi’s congregation and expert chef, patiently boiled hundreds of 3 minute high altitude breakfast eggs, served with lox and bagels. Fragrant smells of the salmon slices and eggs oozed deliciously into the air of the hall. I can’t boil two eggs without overdoing them. Is it our altitude? Three minutes my grandmother always said. You can still get Gerard’s perfectly cooked eggs at his popular restaurant in Cherry Creek, Zaidy’s. And you can get perfectly thoroughly cooked matzoh balls in his famous chicken soup. 

I believe one particular Sunday morning, the rabbi was reviewing Simon Weisenthal’s remarkable work, “The Sunflower.” A great teacher, he interrupted his lecture and spoke to me directly about the text. “Dennis, the Irish are related to us Jews on this issue of genocide. When Hitler saw that no one protested when the British exported millions of tons of food from Ireland in the 1840’s during the great famine which beset the country, he knew he could go after the Jews in Europe and no one would say a thing. When Hitler saw that the Turks could slaughter millions of Armenian fellow citizens of their country and no one would say a thing, he knew he could go after the Jews of Europe. When Hitler saw that Stalin starved up to 7 million Ukrainian farmers to death in 1930’s and no one would say a thing, he knew he could go against the Jews of Europe.” The rabbi’s words echoed hauntingly the inhumanity of one people over another and have always stayed with me.

After the review, the synagogue drew a name for a winner of the book reviewed. That Sunday morning, I had the luck to win Weisenthal’s “The Sunflower” and years later I had him autograph it for me at an event in Denver where he was speaking. I recommend reading this book to reflect on John Lewis’s life and to help you through the pandemic sequester.  

Seeing the horrific pictures of John Lewis and MLK being beaten and cattle prodded across the notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge replayed during his memorials, like unwanted ghosts from our shadowy past, and dredged up remembrances of MLK’s words.  I thought of MLK’s quote from his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” which mirrored the rabbi’s comment to me: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Indeed it’s so true that all of us human beings are all inextricably tied together in these tragic inhumanities. 

Let us hope that the memories of John Lewis and MLK’s words and lives can lead us to a new time in America, where we can move from racism to a more constructive future. But that makes us have to remember our histories.         


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