• A Little Boy Brings A Rabbi and A Priest Close To Each Other

    My youngest son, Scotty was exactly 2 years of age at the time. Lisa was 7, Michael was 9, and Jeffrey was 11.

    It was July and I had a two-week vacation from the synagogue, My wife, Toby, and I had decided that we would take a family vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi, We would drive from Huston to Biloxi in one day spend 12 days in Biloxi at the holiday, Inn Hotel, and then take one more day to return back to Huston.

    At that time, Toby and I shared one car, a station wagon, and we Decided that all of us would leisurely drive together from Houston to Biloxi, a distance of about 550 miles, in about 13 hours. We decided that We would begin our journey at 6 a.m. so that we might arrive at our hotel  about 7 p.m., before sunset.

    Toby suggested that she drive, since l did not enjoy driving long distances, and I would take care and entertain the children. l therefore brought along a number of children’s books for them to read, or for me to read to them, some games that they could play with by themselves or together, and quite a number of snacks.

    For the first few hours it was quite peaceful. The children slept or snapped. They were quite tired- especially Scotty. But about 10:30 am. They began awakening- one by one. By 11 a.m., they were all awakening – one by one, By 11 a.m, they were all awake and I felt that I was in a ware zone, “Energy” was flowing through all of them, especially Scotty, I had never seem him like this before. He was always quiet and tranquil, subdued and restrained, But Now he excited and electrified, invigorated and stimulated. The other children kept telling him, “Sit Down”, “Keep Quiet”, “You’re rocking the boat”, “You’re annoying us,”, “You’re acting like a baby and a pest.” But the more they chastised and castigated him, the more animated and exhilarated he became.

    I could not control him. He was scampering and scooting all over the rear of our station wagon. He was not interested in me reading to him. He kept pushing my books away. Meanwhile, the other children kept dictating to me, “Keep him quiet. He’s ruining the trip.” It was not the Scotty that I had known for the past two years. It was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario,

    At about noon, I told Toby to pull up, “I think he’s eaten something poisonous,” I nervously said to her. “He’s having a serious reaction to something. Maybe we ought to take him to hospital emergency Room.”

    However, Toby tranquilly commented, “We want to get to the hotel before sunset. We’ll get there at that time if we pull up. Just try to humor Scotty and I’ll get us to the hotel in time.”

    Toby seemed oblivious and amnesic of what was happening in the rear of the station wagon. She was merely listening to her Pop Music on her favorite FM station while I was attempting to control the children, especially Scotty.

    The Trip was not an easy one for me, In face, it was like a voyage through Dante’s Hades, especially since our air-conditioning was broken and we had to keep the windows open Scotty seemed to became more and more cantankerous as the minutes blended into hours, and I became more and more frustrated and checkmated as my temper frayed and became thinner and thinner with the passage of time

    Before we embarked on the trip, Toby had suggested that we find a nursery for Scotty when we arrived in Biloxi where he could spend the day while the remainder of the family could enjoy a happy and peaceful vacation, but I had vehemently and passionately opposed that recommendation and proposal because I strongly felt that there should be “family unity” in our vacation Toby did not press her advice before the trip. She merely said, “We’ll discuss it later.”

    We finally arrived at the Holiday Inn about 8p.m. It was just about dark and we had one room with two queen beds  (one for toby and me, and one for Jeffrey and Michael), a cot (for Lisa), and a crib (for Scotty). Yes, the room was a bit crowded, but we were on a limited budget.

     

    Scotty had been a combination of a volcano and a Tsunami as we drove from Houston to Biloxi, but as soon as we arrived at the hotel he “conked out” and frittered down like an Indianapolis Raceway race car.  Whose fuel gauge arrow was now pointing to “empty”

    Toby put him in his crib and he looked like a cherub, a celestial angel, and I told her to take children into the dining room to get some dinner. The dining room was only about 100 feed from our room so she could always go back to check on Scotty to make sure he was asleep

    However, as the children were finishing their sandwiches Toby told Jeffrey, “Go find Daddy. I don’t know where he is. He was supposed to eat with us but he never came into dining room.”

    Within three minutes Jeffrey returned. “Daddy’s at the check-in counter. He’s talking to the man behind the desk.”

    Within 5 minutes, I was with Toby and the children. I had a big smile on my face. “There two Day-camps for children in Biloxi that take children from ages 1 ½ to 13. They even serve the kids lunch, and the day runs from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. We could bring Scotty there in the morning and pick him up at night.”

    Four sets of eyes rigidly focused on me, and it was Jeffrey who first blurted out. “But, Daddy, you said wanted this to be a ‘family trip’ that even included Scotty. Are you now changing the type of vacation we’re going to have?”

    My face turned red with embarrassment. “Maybe you’re right. We’ll wait until tomorrow morning and see how Scotty is. Maybe it was the length of the trip that got him so riled up and irrigated. Maybe now that we’re at the hotel he’ll be his own old self – quiet and peaceful, placid and claim. Let’s wait until tomorrow.”

    That night everyone slept well, but at 7am Scotty was up and awakened everyone. Toby suggested that I take him to the pool and let him walk around in the shallow water. So, we both put on our bathing suits and I took him to pool.

    However, Scotty refused to remain in the shallow water. He kept running to diving board, laughing vigorously, and then jumping into the 8-foot deep water. However, he could not swim. So, I had to jump into the water and pull him out. But as soon as I pulled him out he would laugh at me, run back to diving board, and jump into the water again I would have to go into the water and pull him out. It was like Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo Op.11 for violin, or Rimksy, Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumble Bee, or Johann Strauss’ Perpetuum Mobile. He just kept going on and on. He did not stop or quit. It was obvious that I was going to get tried before he did. My exhaustion was going precede his.

    After 15 minutes I felt like a mouse on treadmill. It was obvious that Scotty could continue this for the better part of the morning or may be for the better part of the day, However that was way beyond my physical or mental endurance time.

    I quickly pulled him out of the pool, dried him, picked him up, carried him to our room, and officially and dictatorially promulgated, “Let’s all get dressed. We’re going to visit the two children’s camps and register Scotty in one of them He’ll be much happier there. He’ll have friends his own age with whom he can play. Otherwise, he’ll be bored with us all day. There, he’ll have a scheduled program. Here, he’ll run around like a chicken without a head.”

    Toby and the three children looked at each other as if saying. Daddy has finally admitted that Scotty has to be ‘sacrificed’ for the mental tranquility of the majority. Scotty will be happy in camp and we’ll be happy that’s he’s in camp.

    Immediately everyone dressed, went to have breakfast, and by 9.am. We were in the Station Wagon off to the first camp.

    It was only mile from the hotel but as soon as I saw it felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my heart. The supervisor took us around the “camp” but a strong smell of urine filled my nostrils as he took us into the “rest area” where about 10 small children were in cribs – and most of them were crying. The cribs were very dusty and it was quite warm in that room. We listened to the Supervisor for about five minutes as he described the “assets” of his camp, and then I said, “Well get back to you later.” Meanwhile, Scotty was doing his best to release himself from my hold.

    We reentered the station Wagon and all at once the kids and Toby said, “That place is terrible; that’s not a camp. That’s a dump. The parents who send their kids there must hate them.  The Board of Health should shut that place down immediately.”

    I then exhaled as if I had been vanquished and asked, “what’s the name of the other camp?’’

    Toby meekly replied, “Holy Angels of St Michael’s Roman catholic Crunch. It’s not far from here. ”

    For a moment I frowned. I did not want a priest or nun attempting to proselytize my son. But they had the right to institute any program they so desired. It was the camp of a Catholic Church. If I did not want any religion taught to my son then I should not send him there. It was not my choice to tell the priest or the num how to run their camp. By enrolling my child in their camp I was telling them that their Children’s programs were satisfactory for my child – even if he was Jewish.

    I was not happy about that thought but I knew that I could not last any lengthy period of time with Scotty on that vacation in his present frame of mind. He was super-energetic, overflowing with exuberance, a human dynamo.

    Therefore, I said to Toby, “let’s investigate and see what they’re offering there.”

    The children laughed and we were off to the champ of the Holy Angels of St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

    It only took us 10 minutes to get to the St. Michal’s Roman Catholic Church. It was truly a modern church built in the round. It looked as if it had been build in the five years and outside of the church was a sign directing people to the camp for the “Holy Angels.” It was on the church’s property behind the church.

    It was obvious that I was not enthusiastic about sending Scotty to a Catholic Church. I had a feeling that one day he would come home singing.

    “Onward Christian Solders,”

    Then, “Jesus Loves Me,”

    Then, “Amazing grace,”

    Then, “Are You Washed In the Blood of the lamb?”

    Then, “Just A Little Talk With Jesus,”

    Then, “Rock of Ages,”

    Then, “What A friend We Have In Jesus”

    Yes, the church was beautiful, and when I saw the champ it was obvious that is was very modern, and the children there where having a good time and enjoying themselves; however, I had the fear that there would be an attempt to instill Catholic religion in my 2 year old Scotty.

    Then an elderly nun approached us. She must have been close to 80 but she stood tall and erect and had a warm smile on her face. She introduced herself as sister Maria and asked us the name of the Catholic Church we attended.

    Sheepishly I replied,  “We are the Segals from Huston but we don’t attend Catholic Church. We’re Jewish. We merely wanted to have our young son Scotty attend camp while we vacation in Biloxi,” And I pointed at Scotty as I spoke to her.

    However, he grabbed her long skirt and began pulling on it, But Sister Maria forcefully took his hand away from her skirt, smiled at him, and softly said to him as she bent down toward him, “At our champ we act with love and respect. We do not pull skirts, pinch people, or act nasty toward them. We show everyone love.”

    It seems as if Scotty was startled by her words and her demeanor and quickly walked away from her and grabbed into my leg, as if for protection and safekeeping, security and asylum.

    Commented, “Mr. and Mrs. Segal, I’d like you to meet Father Coughlin. He is the head of our camp during the summer. He will tell you how during the summer the camp is merely attached to the church but there is no church indoctrination. There is no religious instruction. It is for the entire community – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, atheists, secularists, agnostics – people of all, or no, religions. It is just a communal camp, and Father Coughlin shook his head as if in agreement. He, too, smiled and remarked in a comical manner, “It’s merely a money making project to help pay our yearly expenses.”

    The priest sounded most cordial and congenial, jolly and jovial; however, his name, Father Coughlin, struck a chord of doubt and questioning in my mind because six months earlier I had given a series of six lectures in our Adult Education Program on “Anti-Semites In Jewish History,” and one of them had been Father Charles Coughlin, A catholic Priest at royal Oak, Michigan’s National Shrine of the Little Flower Church.

    Forty million American regularly listened to his weekly radio broadcasts in the 30s and he received as many as 80,000 letters a week. However, he was an avid anti-Semite, eventually even rationalizing some of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s polices toward the Jews.

    True, the Vatican, the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C., and the Archbishop of Cincinnati wanted him silenced, but his superior was Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher who refused to mute him. In face, he supported him, and the Church did nothing because it felt that any action on its part in favor of the Jews would cause in schism amongst American Catholics.

    Coughlin blamed the depression on an “International conspiracy of Jewish bankers.” In fact, he preached that Jewish bankers were behind the Russian Revolution of 1917, and on November 27, 1938, Coughlin stated, “There can be no doubt that the Russian revolution….” Was lunched and fomented by a destructively Jewish influence.” Marxist atheism, he preached, in our land, was a Jewish plot against America.

    In addition to those comments, in a 1938 rally in the Bronx in New York, Coughlin said, “When we get through with the Jews in America they will think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.”

    On December 18, 1938, 2000 of his followers marched in New York protesting a potential asylum law that would have allowed more Jews, including refugees from Hitler’s persecution, into the United States. They loudly chanted, “send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats,” and “Wait until Hitler comes here.” In face, it was even stated by American officials that Coughlin received indirect funding from Nazi Germany during this period. During this time, Coughlin fought a radio battle with Rev. Walton Cole, a Unitarian minister from Toledo, Ohio.

    Finally, after America was attacked by Japan at pearl harbor on December 7, 1941 the Most reverend Edward Mooney, Archbishop of Cincinnati, on May 1, 1942, ordered Coughlin to stop his political actives and confine himself to the duties of a parish priest stating that he would be defrocked if he refused, Coughlin actually complied with that order and remained the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower Church until he retired in 1966.  (He died in 1979.)

    Yes, Sister Maria and Father Coughlin both stated that the camp during the summer was religion-neutral, or, better still, a religious; however the name Coughlin gave me the jitters and the heebie jeebies. Then Sister Maria added, “Scotty can stay here from 7 am.  Until 7 pm.”

    I must admit that when Toby and I heard that, our eyes lit up.

    Then Sister Maria added, “We will even serve him breakfast and lunch. The breakfast usually consists of breakfast cereal and fruit and milk, or hot waffles, or pancakes and syrup, and hot cocoa or hot chocolate.” I knew that Scotty loved that.

    Then she added, while smiling at Scotty, “And he’ll surely love our lunches. We often have bacon or ham, or shrimp or lobster or catfish or frogs’ legs, or crawfish, or pork, He’ll lick his fingers.”

    However, I lowered my head and apologetically replied, “It won’t work. We’re Jewish as I told you, and he can only ear kosher food. We follow the dietary laws of the Bible.”

    Father Coughlin quickly moved his hand toward me as if saying “Don’t Worry, I know what you’re talking about.” He then authoritatively stated, “You’re referring to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 where the Bible states kosher meat must come from animals that have split hooves and chew its cud and kosher fish must have fins and scales.”

    When he said that, I knew that he was a different Father Coughlin. He was bending over backwards to make us, and Scotty, religiously comfortable at his camp. And sister Maria chimed in, “We can give him for lunch peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mixed vegetables. There are loads of kosher foods we can give him” I remember studying about those biblical kosher foods when I was studying to become a nun, many years ago” – and she too was smiling “We can even get for him bagels and lox sandwiches,” She then turned toward Toby and added, “Don’t worry Mrs. Segal, We’ll have plenty of kosher food for him.” And after hesitating for about five seconds she added, “I remember a Mr. and Mrs. Cohen who were friends of my parents they played card every Saturday night with my parents. They played cards every Saturday night with my parents. They kept Kosher and they used to get their kosher meat from New Orleans once a month. Don’t worry,”

    Scotty Won’t go hungry here. We’ll take good care of him,” and she emphasized the word “good.”

    During our conversation, as time went by, Father Coughlin and Sister Maria were elated and jubilant, happy and exultant when I told them that I was a rabbi in Houston. Father Coughlin even felt that there was now a bond that united us. He even felt that there was now a bond that united us. He even stated, “I’m going to take personal care of Scotty,” and sister Maria added, “I’ll personally check all his food to definitely make sure that they’re kosher. God gave the Jews the kosher laws that they should be honored and fulfilled, not broken and violated. You can be sure that Scotty will be under my personal supervision.”

    However, Scotty was not interested in our conversation. He was interested in Sister Maria’s long robe, and he was pulling on it. “No, no, we don’t do that here, Scotty,” Sister Maria warmly but sternly chastised Scotty as she took him firmly by the hand. “Mrs. Segal, I’m going to take Scotty now to the younger children’s section and introduce him to the other boys and girls. You’ll see, he’ll love it here, and by the time he leaves he’ll be tranquilized. ”

    But as she began directing him toward the children’s camp Scotty attempted to kick Father Coughlin, However, Sister Maria grabbed Scotty firmly, and authoritatively informed him, “At Angels of St. Michael’s Camp we don’t kick Father Coughlin,” and she emphasized the word “don’t.” We hug Father Coughlin.”

    I turned toward Sister Maria, Shook my head, and sympathetically commented, “I wish you luck with him. I don’t know what got into him. He never was like this before.”

    We left Scotty with Sister Maria and Father Coughlin and the camp counselors, and every morning we would have him at the camp at 7 a.m as they opened it’s doors, and we would arrive at camp at exactly 7 p.m, the last ones there, as they were about to close the camp.

    Unfortunately, every night, Sister Maria had a report for us. “Once again he tired to kick Father Coughlin. For some unknown reason he doesn’t seem to like him. But we’ll straighten him out;” or “Today he refused to get out of the pool when it was rest time, but a counselor went in for him and got him out;” or “He pulled my hood of my head and I had to chase him around the camp before I could get it back; however I know that deep down in his heart he loves me and Father Coughlin very much.”

    Every evening during the first week we would get a negative report about Scotty when we would call for him at 7 p.m. However, beginning the second week the reports were getting much better. He was hugging Father Coughlin; he was following the counselor’s instructions; he Would often approach Sister Maria to give her a kiss. A metamorphosis was taking place. We couldn’t believe, it, but it was making our vacation more enjoyable and pleasurable.

    Then, on the fourth day of the second week at champ, at about 11 a.m. while we were still at the hotel, I received a call from sister Maria when I was lounging at the pool. The only time she would call us was when she had a major problem with Scotty and she wanted our permission to treat him “in a proper manner.” Now, we thought another major problem had arisen with Scotty. I don’t know why, but I thought that he had struck over backwards, but we can’t change him. He’s like cement. You can’t change the stripes of a zebra. Scotty is Scotty.  We’ve done our best – but it was not good enough.’

    I answered the phone and Sister Maria quickly said to me, “We have a major problem with Scotty today.” I waited for the boom to fall. I waited for a litany of violations of chap rules that Scotty had broken. My heart was racing quickly. But Sister Maria interjected, “Today, we had a problem.  The food truck that comes every day and brings our order for today’s lunch broke down and the food did not arrive. We therefore have to serve everyone from food we have our pantry, and the only thing we have is bread and canned sardines. So, all the children are going to have sardine sandwiches and a glass of milk. However, then I thought of Scotty. Is he permitted to eat sardines? Are they kosher? Do they have fins and scales?  So I opened a can of sardines and I could see the fins.  But I’m 79 years – of age, and my eyes are not very good.  I could not tell if the if the sardines have scales.” She hesitated for a moment and then added, “We all love Scotty very much and we want him to be able to properly follow the rules and regulations of his Jewish religion. During the past two weeks he has developed and matured into a very loving and lovable child. Do you know if the sardines have scales and are kosher? If not, I will have one of the counselors drive to the supermarket to purchase a special can of tuna fish for Scotty.”

    The tempo of my heartbeat began to slow down, “You are very kind, considerate, and compassionate, Sister Maria,” I said to her, “You are big hearted and warm – hearted.  You are truly a messenger of God.” Then I smiled and softly added, “Don’t worry. Sardines have scales and are Kosher, and Scotty loves them. He’ll probably ask for a double portion”

    Thank You, Thank you, “she responded jubilantly. “He’ll be able to eat with the other children when they have their lunch and will not have to wait until we get him something else. He now loves to eat with the other children, be with them, and play with them. “

    At the end of the two weeks I thanked Father Coughlin, Sister Maria, and the Counselors for making it possible for Toby and me, Jeffrey, Michael, and Lisa to enjoy our vacation in Biloxi, and for Scotty to enjoy his vacation at the angels of St. Michale’s Church Camp.  They had “converted” a potentially tension – filled vacation into a very pleasant and enjoyable one – for all of us. Both Toby and I shook hands with Father Coughlin and Sister Maria, and Toby gave Sister Maria a strong hug and a warm kiss

    A week after we returned to Houston I wrote a letter to the Catholic Bishop who was in charge of the Catholic Churches in Biloxi.

     

    Dear Bishop,

    This summer, my wife, 4 children, I spent our vacation in Biloxi, Unfortunately, my 2- year – old, Scotty, was over energetic and did not enable the remainder of the family to enjoy our vacation, So, my wife and I decided that Scotty should attend day camp where counselors had regimented programs that would probably tame this exuberance and allow him to enjoy his summer.

    We are not Catholic, In fact, we are Jewish— and I am a rabbi in Houston; however, I would like you to know that your staff, led by Father Coughlin and sister Maria, bent over backwards for scotty so that might enjoy his summer and still be able to continue observing his Jewish traditions.

    Yes, Lunches often consisted of non-kosher meats of fish for the other campers, but the camp saw to it that Scotty had kosher substitutes. In fact, I was even once called by Sister Maria to check as to whether sardines were kosher because she told me that her failing eyesight did not allow her to distinctly notice whether the sardines had scales necessary for kosher fish.

    Father Coughlin and sister Maria and their counselors constantly showered him with love and affection, tenderness and understanding so that at the end of the two weeks that he was at the camp Scotty was one of the best behaved children at the camp – and all the children and counselors loved him. They had converted him being a “Satan” to being an “angel.” He truly became an “Angel” of St. Michael’s at your champ, and for this both Toby and I are indebted to your staff.

    But I want to pinpoint two extraordinary people at your champ: Father Coughlin and Sister Maria. They both possessed the sprit of the late Pope John XXIII his relationship to the Jews.

    When he became Pope in 1959, he removed the word “perfidious” from the Good Friday prayer that referred to Jews because he felt it was an insult to them. He also removed the word “Faithless” from the prayer for the conversion of the Jews because he felt it was an indignant expression referring to the Jews.

    And when he met with a Jewish delegation he said to them, “I am Joseph, your brother, “ and he was very influential in developing the Papal doctrine “Nostra Acetate,” (In our Age), that started that Churches no longer looked upon the Jews as rejected or accursed by God.  He wanted to develop good relations with Jews because he realized that his God, Jesus, was born a Jew of a Jewish mother, Mary.

    And during World War II, he issued baptismal certificates that were responsible for saving many Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovakian Jews whom the Nazis had already decided were to be killed in the Nazi Concentration Camps.  In fact, the Chief Rabbi of Buenos Aires Said of Pope John XXIII, “He was man created in the image of God.”

    One of his major activities as Pope was to develop good relations with the Jews.  For too many Centuries the Church had developed a strong animosity for the Jews.  John XXIII wanted to change that: from hatred to love, from distrust to trust, from ill will to friendship, from hostility to affability.

    Pope John put into practice the statement made by Jesus to the person who asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” and he replied, “ ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ All the Law and prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40)

    Father Coughlin and Sister Maria put into practice Jesus’ word “Love thy Neighbor as thyself” which were originally stated by God to Moses (Leviticus : 19:18).  That principle is the energy and fuel that makes life livable and worthwhile. Father Coughlin and Sister Maria felt that they had a mission to help Scotty enjoy his two weeks in Biloxi and to mold him into a more lovable human being – and they achieved their goals.

    My wife and I are indebted to those two, to your Church, and to your champ.  I can assure, you that they helped develop a strong and good relationship between the Catholic Church and the Rabbi from Houston.  To Father Coughlin and sister Maria, their New Testament is not merely a book to be read before bed, but a guidebook whose instruction should be followed – and they put into practice the 2000 year old instruction that Jesus gave to his followers: “Love they neighbor as thyself”.

    Thank you very much. You can be very proud of your Catholic staff.

    Rabbi Jack Segal

     

    Lessons Learned

    1)     The world needs more warm hearts and fewer hot heads.

    2)     Close your eyes to the faults of others and watch the doors friendship swing wide.

    3)     We are on the wrong track when we think of friendships as something get – rather than something to give.

    4)     Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together.

    5)     The best recipe for making friends to be one yourself.

    6)     A good friend is like a tube of toothpaste — he comes thought in a tight squeeze.

    7)     A friend will strengthen you with his prayers, bless you with his love, and encourage you with his hope.

     

    Excerpt from You Can’t live on Hope Alone, but You Can’t Live Without it by Jack Segal
    To purchase this book, contact The Beth Yeshurun Gift Shop at (73) 255-802 or giftshop@bethyeshurun.org.

     

     

     

     

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