|Remembering My Father|
by Gerald A. Honigman
All of us have regrets in life. Some have more than others.
I’ve probably shot myself in the foot more than should ever be allowed...and hurt my loving parents and others as well in the process.
Sure, my "luck" was not the best, I was naive in many ways, and there were, at times, truly nasty and unbelievable things being done to me. Still, my own shortcomings contributed to the problems--no doubt. A different person, perhaps, could have found a way to overcome those obstacles or may have not had to face them in the first place.
I think about all of this as I ponder the fact that this year will mark twenty years since my Father's passing. I realize how hard he worked for us all of his life--often endangering his own life in the process. Lieutenant Edward Honigman, of blessed memory, passed away on December 2, 1992. I remember that horrible night as if it was yesterday.
Dad had put twenty-seven years in on the Philadelphia Police Department. He joined the latter not long after returning from fighting in several theatres for four years in World War II. There's a few brief stories of his days in the U.S. Navy that I’d like to share at this time because of their relevance to today’s events in the Middle East.
As a gunner in the Armed Guard, his duties included the protection of merchant shipping crossing dangerous waters. When I was a teenager, this very “macho” man had no qualms revealing to me that he spent many a night at sea worrying about whether he’d be alive the next morning. German U-boats were sinking ships all around him. Indeed, his sister ship went down. There but for the Grace of G_d go I...
But I’m not writing now simply to recall war stories.
One evening, while on shore leave during the Allied North African Rommel Campaign, Dad visited a cafe in Alexandria, Egypt. While sitting at a table with his buddies, he happened to notice several soldiers who walked in with Star of David patches on their uniforms.
Curious, Dad walked over, introduced himself, and inquired about the patches. It turns out that he had met up with members of the Jewish Brigade, a fighting unit consisting mostly of “Palestinian” (which in those days meant exclusively Jews...Arabs called themselves Arabs) Jews attached to the British Army. These were besides tens of thousands of other Jews who served in Allied militaries.
Towards the end of their conversation, Dad’s new friends had some chilling words that he later repeated to me. They said that when the war was over for him, G_d willing, he’d be able to return home and all would be calm. But when World War II was over for them, it would simply mark the beginning of yet another major conflict--the battle for the rebirth of the Jewish State...the answer to all the would-be Hitlers our people have been periodically confronted with for thousands of years. Those words haunted my Father from that day onwards.
During one of Dad’s later stops in Aden near the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, his friends decided to play what they considered to be a joke on their Jewish shipmate. Now, keep in mind that these were the same guys who repeatedly fed non-Jews more ammo in fleet gunnery competition so that the Jew wouldn’t beat them. They told Dad to call one of the Arab attendants over and address him as “Yahudi.” After my Father did this, the distressed Arab then said, “ curse me, curse my mother, but please, please sir... never call me that!”
My Father had called him a Jew.
A look at those last five paragraphs tells you much about what Jewish existence was like over much of the world, in the Muslim East as well as in the Christian West, before the rebirth of Israel. And Dad had experienced both versions firsthand.
Many years later, I had become the father of three children of my own.
On one of the last of our hundreds of fishing trips together over the years, Dad asked me why I wasn’t thinking about having another child. I kind of jumped on him for that...one of my many above-mentioned regrets. I told him that I was much older than he was when he had his first child, was a teacher living from hand to mouth with nothing too much to spare in Florida (having what we do have largely due to the generosity of my wife’s and my own parents), etc. and so forth.
A few months later, Dad was gone.
After partially recovering from the pain, Mom and I had to eventually go to the rental storage facility where Dad had stored lots of stuff in a zillion different boxes. We had to weed through the latter to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. Hours later, we opened a box that had something wrapped in newspaper on the bottom of it. And, as I unwrapped it, I was in shock....
Yehudit is Hebrew for Judith, the female form of Yehuda, Judah...Dad’s Hebrew name. It is customary for Jews to name children after deceased loved ones. There is no letter "J" in the Hebrew languge.
And here in Dad’s box was a statue of Judith, the ancient Hebrew defender of her people.
Did Dad know? Was that the reason why he wanted so much for me to have a fourth child...so that he would have a name?
Well, Dad probably had a number of good reasons why he wanted this. But what a truly amazing, unforgettable experience.
My grandfather, of blessed memory (a veteran of World War I), was a “collector” of all kinds of things. Dad used to make jokes about Pop’s “collections.” But the best I can make out from all of this is that Dad acquired one of those “collectables” from his father and, for some reason, held onto it for who knows how long.
Elana Judith Honigman, G_d bless--the “unplanned baby” and fourth child--was born on February 9, 1993...about two months after Dad passed away. She just completed her sophomore year in college. And, like my other children, Abigail Zipporah, Jessica Beth, and Jonathan Ze'ev--whom I am also especially grateful for as I, myself, get older--I am amazed at what a blessing she has truly turned out to be.
What else is new? Dad was right again.
I can only hope that G_d permits the soul of my Father to know how this story has turned out.